Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time

If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time. Yet, she filled every waking moment with activity. Nightly walks with Steven, final touches on her wedding dress, visits with people she cared nothing about — any device to keep her busy. How she longed to get her final dreaded meeting with Teresa over. But the interminable week gave Blanche time to try to frame her words of refusal to Teresa. A hundred times a day, and a hundred times a night as she lay in bed, she searched for words. And at Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time the end of each of her mental conversations, she was defeated.

She wanted Teresa to stay in Starcross. She was the only woman who meant anything to her. The separation hadn’t yet occurred and she could already feel the loss, the pain building in her chest. The feeling stayed with her, following her around like a shadow no matter how she tried to bury her traitorous thoughts.

She took time one afternoon to go to the bank to withdraw her savings. She would give it all to Teresa as a going away gift. She could not imagine any Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time circumstance where she would need it nearly as badly as Teresa would.

Large plate glass windows on either side of a door painted with ornate gold and black lettering denoted the bank’s name and hours of business. The letters stared back at her as she took a deep breath before entering. The bank, with its large walk-in vault and eight-inch-thick door with a two-handled combination lock, was a safe establishment in which to deposit money. A few foolish souls had tried to rob the place; those that Starcross didn’t bury rode empty-handed Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time out of town on the run and were not heard from again.

Teresa would not be heard from again either, ever again...

Alexander waited on her personally, saying as he handed her the money, “Steven will be pleased. He’ll be able to put in his new well much sooner now.”

Defiantly, Blanche said, “It’s not for Steven, Father. Teresa’s decided to leave Starcross and go to Chicago. I’m sure she’ll need it far more than Steven needs his well.”

She expected Alexander to fly into a rage, to shout down the building that this Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time was the last straw, this was her entire working career’s savings, how could she so easily give it to a near-stranger? But in quiet sorrowful agreement he said, “That’s very commendable, Blanche. Very commendable,” and completed the transaction without further discussion.

Confused and amazed, Blanche wordlessly tucked the money into her purse and left hurriedly, unable to face Alexander’s penetrating eyes.

At last the dreaded day arrived. She dressed carefully, wanting to look her best for Teresa this final time. She asked herself, “Why bother?” and went ahead and dressed carefully anyway, knowing Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time why.

As she left the house she knew she was covered with red splotches. She swallowed continuously but walked with her head held high and her step firm.

She wasn’t at her rock five minutes before Teresa drew the buggy to a halt.

Teresa got down and faced Blanche. “I can guess what your answer is, Blanche.” She looked the tall woman straight in the eye as she spoke.

Blanche nearly wilted under Teresa’s steadfast gaze. “I have no choice, Teresa. You know that.”

“Everyone has choices,” the smaller woman told her.

“I don’t.”

Teresa reached Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time up and placed a soft hand against Blanche’s cheek. Her eyes seemed to search the depths of Blanche’s soul.

Blanche stood unmoving, fearing she would grasp this tiny creature to her breast and crush her to death with love.

With a little smile Teresa said, “You never did get over your red splotches, did you?” and dropped her hand from Blanche’s burning cheek.

“I was hoping you would never notice,” Blanche said. Heat of embarrassment rose up her neck, reddening her further.

“I see much more than people realize,” Teresa said. “They think I’m a Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time toy, a plaything. I’m not.” And then she added, “And I’m going east.”

Even though Teresa knew already, Blanche had to say it: “I will be staying, Teresa. I have to.” She fought back tears.

“I won’t try to change your mind, Blanche. You must come freely or not at all.”

Teresa’s statement disappointed her. Teresa could have at least tried to change her mind; she could have shown that she cared that much.

“I... I have something for you,” Blanche said, removing from a deep pocket in the skirt of her dress the Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time money she had withdrawn. She pressed it into Teresa’s small hand. “I want you to take it.”

Teresa began to protest.

“No,” Blanche insisted. “You’ll need it. Take it, please.”

Teresa looked at the roll of bills bound with a narrow yellow ribbon. “It’s a lovely gesture, Blanche. Lovely.” She brushed aside an involuntary tear. “But, I can’t.” She handed back the money.

“If you don’t take it, Teresa,” Blanche threatened, her voice choking, “I’m going to throw it into the Brazos.” How else could she lessen the guilt she felt letting Teresa Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time go like this?

As if sensing Blanche’s determination, Teresa thanked her softly. “It will be a big help.” Again she brushed away a tear.

Her heart aching, Blanche said, “Come to my wedding before you go.” She wanted to plead, to beg Teresa to be there.

“No,” Teresa replied. “The stage leaves at six. I’ll be on it. I’ve made all my plans, such as they are, and I might weaken if I have to wait even one extra week for the next express. And then where will I be? Back in the clutches of Lattimer. I Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time couldn’t stand that again.” An involuntary shudder took her.



“You’re right,” Blanche reluctantly agreed. “I have no right to detain you.”

Softly, Teresa said, “Thank you for understanding, Blanche.”

Heaven help her, Blanche didn’t understand anything right now. And she didn’t need Teresa’s kind words. She had come here to make a final break with her and a final break it would be. Right now. Speaking quietly, Blanche said, “All right, Teresa. Go back, then. I don’t see any point in our staying here any longer.”

Teresa turned to walk back to the buggy. Unable Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time to help herself, Blanche reached out a restraining hand. She couldn’t just let Teresa go like this. The two women gazed at each other for a long time and then for one last time, held one another so closely that it nearly took their breaths away.

Oh, Lord, how Teresa felt in Blanche’s arms, pressed against her large breasts; how comfortably Teresa’s head tucked beneath her chin; how protective she felt toward the smaller woman. If she were only a man, she would take Teresa for her own. She would fight and willingly die for her Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time. A thousand different times if she had to.

Appalled at such unnatural thoughts, Blanche was brought up short and stepped back, putting space between herself and this woman who was forever unsettling her.

No matter. This was it. This was the final time. It was over, goddamn it, over!

Teresa drove off, Blanche watching her one last time. She was almost out of sight now, partially blocked from view by the buildings. Blanche took a big, strong, brave, determined deep breath and then crumpled in a sobbing heap against her rock wishing she were dead, miles away Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time, already married for ten years.

When she got back to the house everyone was just sitting down to breakfast. She avoided the kitchen, going straight to her room. She collapsed on her bed wanting only to lie there unmoving forever. Over and over she saw Teresa’s receding back as she drove away, heard Teresa’s final pronouncement: “I’m going east.”

Blanche lay there trying to get up but was held to the bed by the weight of her own depression.

Giving up on the day, she eventually undressed and put on her nightgown and crawled into bed. In Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time five minutes she was asleep.

She was awakened by a soft knock on her door, Alexander calling her name. He walked over to her bedside. Softly, he said, “Blanche.”

“Father. Is something wrong?” she asked heavily.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” he replied sitting down beside her.

She asked, “Father, did you ever love someone that you shouldn’t?”

Alexander contemplated his daughter, a pensive look on his face. “Women have their little secrets. Men should be allowed theirs, too.” He bent over and kissed her. “Go back to sleep now. No one Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time will bother you.”

The following Friday, the Bartholomews gathered to toast Blanche and to be together for the last time as the original family before adding a new member. It was a happy affair, all the family telling stories from their pasts that left them laughing hysterically. Blanche thanked goodness for wine. It helped her forget tomorrow and enjoy only tonight.

When she went upstairs to bed, Blanche took with her her wedding gown which had hung in her parents’ room until now. Julia would come up in the morning and help her dress. Mable would fix her veil Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time at the church. Matthew would hold the ring. Father would give her away. Julia and Steven’s mother would thank God and cry.

Alone in her room, sitting on her bed, her gown still in her arms in great fluffy heaps of white billowing out in front of her and onto the floor, she asked aloud to the surrounding emptiness and golden glow of the three chimney lanterns, “And whatever will you do, Blanche Irene Bartholomew?”

A sudden loud knock interrupted her, startling her nearly out of her wits. Alexander peeked in. “I wanted to see you alone before Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time I went to bed.” He smiled and entered. He took the gown from her hands and gave it a little shake and hung it in the closet for her. “Beautiful,” he said sincerely.

“A lot of work for one day,” she said.

Alexander wandered over to the window and looked at his reflection staring back at him through lace curtains. “It’s hard to believe you’ll no longer be here,” he said.

He’s sad, thought Blanche. Somehow this surprised her. She didn’t think her father would be sad. Just happy that she was finally out of here.

“You Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time know, Blanche, if you had never married, I wouldn’t have minded. It was your mother who was the worried one.”

“It’s time that I did, Father. You and I both know it.”

Alexander came over and sat on the bed beside her. His breath was sweet with wine. “I haven’t mentioned a dowry before.” Alexander put an arm around her. “I’ve been putting something away for you and Mable over the years so that when you married, you’d go as proper brides. I’ll give yours to Steven after the wedding tomorrow.”

“We are a Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time proper family, aren’t we, Father?” Blanche said. “Leading citizens in Starcross.”

“We are,” he agreed.

“That’s rather a heavy burden to carry at times, do you know that?” she asked.

He kissed her and left her alone. She got up and walked around the room touching things and running her hand over old and familiar objects on her dresser. Walking over to her gown, she fingered the fabric she had so carefully fashioned into her first light colored dress in years. It was a beautiful dress, she had to admit, even if she had made it Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time. What a waste, she thought, to wear something this costly and lovely only once.

She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the crates and suitcases sitting off to one side out of the way, waiting to be taken to Steven’s tomorrow afternoon.

As the late night hours passed into early morning, certain she was in control of herself, she allowed herself to think of Teresa. She remembered their first meeting, their rides together, their talks. Their time had been so short. To have had more time, to have spent carefree and endless Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time hours with her...

Too late Blanche realized her mistake. The gate was opened, old heartbreaking feelings returned to devastate her. She lay down on the bed, burying her face in her pillow, crying pent-up tears into the silence.

I’m leaving.

The finality of the terrible words echoed off the walls of her room, striking her from every side, touching every quaking nerve in her body.

I’m leaving.

All she’d have to do is take a suitcase. The small one. The one there on the end. It was ready for such a trip. And Teresa already had Blanche’s Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time money — plus her own. All she had to do was just grab the suitcase and run.

No! her mind screamed. She ran out of her room and downstairs, trying to make it to the backhouse. Halfway there she vomited up stale, sour, stinking wine.

It was awful. She threw up so hard she had to kneel and to put her hands on the ground in front of her to keep from falling forward. It went on and on and on. Finally, the spasms passed and she was able to sit back on her haunches and rest.

My God, she Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time entreated, why did this woman trouble her so?

Back in her room, she washed her face and brushed her teeth. She put on a fresh dress, not her gown, and sat again on the edge of her bed. Exhausted, she wanted the morning light to come as soon as possible. It would be here in another hour. In two, Teresa would leave.

And, God help her, in two, Blanche would leave with her.

PART TWO THE CONNECTICUT YANKEE

“Quick, get up!”

From a deep sleep, Teresa felt her shoulder being roughly shaken. She moaned and moved away. “Get lost, Lattimer Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time,” she snarled.

“Teresa, it’s Blanche. The stage leaves in —” There was a brief pause and then a near hysterical voice: “— three minutes. You’ve got to get up.”

Teresa sat up quickly and just as quickly grabbed her head. “God, what day is it?” Remembering she was nude, she pulled a sheet up over her breasts. “Give me my dress, will you?”

Gaudy garments hung everywhere: from the door, on hangers against the wall, and in the closet. A large dresser with an even larger mirror was buried beneath jars and canisters of facial powders and paints. The Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time wallpaper, a brilliant red print, glared unpleasantly in the early morning light.

Teresa swung her legs over the side of the rumpled bed and grabbed her undergarments. Rapidly she began to pull them on. “I thought you weren’t going. Not that one,” she said to Blanche who had picked up a bright orange dress. “That one.”

“I thought you weren’t staying,” Blanche retorted. She handed Teresa the dress she had worn the day they had first gone driving together. Not too neatly, Teresa yanked it over her head.

“My hat,” Teresa said pointing to a chair Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time nearby, frantically tugging her clothing into place. Blanche grabbed the hat and Teresa jammed it on her head groaning loudly from the pain. Even her hair felt like it hurt. “To hell with it,” she growled, flinging the hat to the floor. “I couldn’t leave without you,” she said to Blanche, straightening the last of her buttons. She picked up her shoes and stockings. “I’ll put these on in the stage. How much time do we have?”

“One minute. What do you mean?”

“Get my suitcase. I was all ready to leave and then backed out at two Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time this morning.”

The two women hastened out the door and down the stairs. “Let me out, Sam,” Teresa called to the man who cleaned the Blackjack each morning.

He came from around the bar looking at the suitcases in Blanche’s hand. “Lattimer know?”

“Hell no, he doesn’t know,” Teresa replied impatiently. “And don’t you tell him either.”

“I’ll miss you, Teresa,” Sam said. He gave her a brief kiss on the cheek.

“I’ll miss you too, Sam,” she said. “But it’s time to move on. What time is it, Blanche Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time?” she asked over her shoulder. They were out of the building and running.

“Six,” Blanche replied.

They reached the stagecoach in time to hear the driver yell, “Gitup!”

Teresa ran out in front of the coach waving her shoes and stockings at the six-horse team, unmindful of the great size of the beasts and their beginning forward motion. She screamed at the top of her lungs, “Hold it, Charlie, you old bastard! You owe me! You stop this goddamn stagecoach right now or you’re never gonna be able to go home again.”

Cursing loudly, the grizzly bearded man hauled back Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time on the reins trying to quiet the startled horses, and spat tobacco juice at her. From beneath a dirty sweat-stained hat, piercing black eyes glared at her. “Hell, I don’t wait five seconds fer nobody. Not even fer President Grant!”

“I’m warning you, Charlie,” she yelled, threatening him with a shoe. “I’ll tell your wife all about you and I’ll do it right now!”

He glowered fiercely at her and then grunted, “Pay at the first stop.”

Blanche, standing by with both suitcases, breathed a sigh of relief and slung their bags unceremoniously into Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time the coach. She and Teresa climbed in, slamming the doors shut. Teresa noted with relief that they were the only passengers this morning. She couldn’t have endured chit-chat from anyone today.

As they collapsed against the seats they heard Charlie yell, “Gitup!”

Moving the baggage out of the way, Blanche asked, “Are you sick?”

“No, just a damned hangover. Acquired it through lack of faith.” Teresa put a shaking hand over her eyes to shield them momentarily from the bright morning sunrise. She had a splitting headache. At two this morning she’d gone Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time downstairs, gotten a bottle of Lattimer’s best rum, and returned with it to her room. Slowly and methodically she’d drunk every damned drop, gone outside and thrown up, and then staggered upstairs to sleep it off and face one more day.

But who the hell ever knew what the turn of a card would show? Here she was this morning, with Blanche by her side. And wondering how it had all come about. If Lattimer didn’t come gunning for her she’d be perfectly happy. Happiness wouldn’t be hard to accomplish after the last three years Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time of her life.

She looked over at Blanche who stared wide-eyed out the window as the horses warmed to their task and the stage began to pick up speed. Teresa could see she was scared. Probably more scared than she’d ever been in her life. She didn’t blame her. What Blanche was going through today was what she herself had gone through three years ago in Connecticut.

Worse yet, this was Blanche’s wedding day. The lady had guts. “Don’t worry, Blanche.” Teresa smiled. “It’ll all work out. For one thing I won’t be getting Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time drunk anymore.” Brave words from someone who didn’t have an idea in the world what the next week would bring.

“I’m not your mother, Teresa, and I’m not worried.” Then Blanche corrected herself. “Well, maybe I am a little.”

“Maybe you are a lot,” Teresa amended. “When did you decide to come?”

“I don’t really know,” she said. “Probably right after you asked me. My suitcases have been all packed for my wedding trip to Steven’s for a number of days but I must have been planning to leave Starcross permanently because Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time of the way I packed.”

“Why?” Teresa grunted, hauling on her stockings and shoes. “What’s in your suitcase?”

“The barest of essentials,” Blanche replied.

Teresa became thoughtful and then said, “There’s no turning back before Samson’s Town. But there is a return stage tomorrow morning.”

“I won’t be turning back,” Blanche answered firmly.

The bouncing stagecoach rolled rapidly over the open plains of Texas. Caring nothing for the comfort of more room by using the second empty seat, Teresa and Blanche sat close together seeking solace from one another as they began their perilous journey. They unrolled Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time the windows’ heavy canvas curtains in a futile attempt to fight the dust thrown by the thundering hooves and rolling wheels. Eventually, the sun forced them to raise the canvas and they stared with gritty eyes at the landscape as Charlie skillfully guided the horses over bumpy roads, across wooden bridges spanning dry gulches, and around large boulders and groves of trees. They listened to him yell “Gee!” and “Haw!” at sharp bends as the coach leaned frighteningly away from the curves. The tense passengers were roughly jostled in the rapidly moving coach, coughing frequently and Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time wiping grit from their faces and wondering if they could last to Samson’s Town.

During the brief rest stops, they got out and stretched their legs and tried to calm their queasy stomachs, while a fresh team was speedily exchanged for the worn panting horses, great breaths of hot air blowing from their nostrils, heads hanging low, sides heaving, froth dripping from their massive chests and hindquarters and dark splotches of sweat soaking their thick necks and sides.

Nervously, the women tightly held each other’s hands as they rode. By clinging to one another, there still remained some contact Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time with the world they had known until just a short time ago —a certainty unlike the future ahead of them.

The driver stopped the stage for the final time at night-fall. They staggered off the coach, hauling their suitcases with them, and stepped up onto the wood sidewalk shaking dust from their clothes.

“I told you the trip would be endless,” Teresa said.

“Is there a hotel?” Blanche asked exhaustedly.

“Down this way,” Teresa replied. “Come on.”

They walked through the settling darkness, bumping into cowboys filling the sidewalks and exiting the endless saloons lining the bustling street Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time. Horses filled hitching rails, heads hanging low as they patiently waited long hours for their riders. Mixed music from tinny pianos drifted on the night air and loud singing could be heard from several quarters. Stores and shops, tucked in between the public houses, were closed and dark, yielding to Samson’s Town’s night life. Townsladies and gentlemen were noticeably absent.

“Hey, a real lady,” a passing cowboy said, grabbing Teresa as she walked by. His breath was potent with drink.

“Hiya, cowboy,” Teresa answered in a friendly tone. “You go have a good time, you hear Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time?” she said smiling. “I just got off the stage and wouldn’t be good for a thing tonight.”

Disarmed by Teresa’s good-natured teasing, the cowboy let her go and bellowed laughter as he staggered down the sidewalk.

Teresa hissed, “Damned drunken fool,” and brushed at her arm where he had grabbed her. “Come on, Blanche.”

Gunshots exploded from somewhere down the street and two windows shattered just to Blanche’s left. Instinctively, she ducked and clutched Teresa’s arm. Several cowboys on horseback galloped by, yelling and challenging each other to shooting contests.

Nonchalantly, Teresa said Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time, “Nothing much has changed in three years.”

“The place is so wild,” Blanche said nervously.

“Only at night,” Teresa answered. “The men are harmless. There must be a cattledrive going through. Come on. Let’s try for a room. I’m dead.”

They entered a large two-story hotel. Several chandeliers brightly lighting the interior gave its orange wallpaper a warm glow. There was heavy horsehair furniture in the spacious office. A tired looking clerk sat behind the counter intently reading a newspaper. From the hotel’s dining room, odors of cooking food drifted to the famished women.

“I stayed here three Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time years ago,” Teresa said. “It’s not bad.”

“Good,” Blanche said strongly. “Once I get settled, I don’t want to go out into this madness again.”

Teresa chuckled to herself. Blanche didn’t know what madness was. “Any rooms?” she asked the bored-looking clerk.

“Three left, ma’am.”

“We’ll take one,” Teresa said with authority. “Two beds.”

“Ain’t got but doubles, ma’am. One in each room,” He wrote in the guest book as he talked. “Two rooms. Sign here.” He pushed the book toward Teresa.

Knowing they must watch every expense, Teresa stated Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time, “I said one room, please. It will be sufficient, I’m sure. For a week.”

“Yes ma’am,” the clerk said and changed his entry. Teresa paid for the week and he handed her the key. As they walked away they could hear him mutter, “Damned uppity Yankees.”

Blanche turned to say something, but Teresa grabbed her arm. “Never mind, Blanche. It isn’t worth it.”

“But we’re not Yankees.”

“I am. And pretty soon you will be, so forget it.”

In the dim light filtering into their small room from the hallway, Blanche dropped her Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time suitcase at her feet. She sat down heavily in a worn leather chair. “I’m so tired I could die,” she said.

“So am I,” Teresa groaned. “But I’ve got to eat first so I’ll have the strength to.” She made her way to a single small dresser and lit the room’s only lantern then lay down, unmindful of the quilted bed cover as she crossed her feet.

A single large window was covered with a thin lace curtain. The shade was up and a gentle breeze stirred the curtain slightly. Small oval rugs were placed on each side Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time of the bed on the wide plank floor. The room’s walls were papered a pleasant shade of blue creating a restful atmosphere throughout. “Come on,” Teresa said before the room overwhelmed her and she fell asleep forever. “Let’s go eat.”

In the large dining room they sat near a window, its lower half covered with a white curtain hung from a brass rod, the top by a valence. Red-and-white-checkered tablecloths on every table added cheer to the room already brightened by overhead chandeliers and by opal glass hurricane lamps spaced frequently Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time along the walls. At this late hour there were only two other patrons, tired-looking cowboys who sat alone and who probably had just ridden into town and were preparing their stomachs for the volumes of whiskey they would drink tonight.

Teresa and Blanche ate tough thick beefsteaks almost impossible to cut with a knife, and boiled potatoes buried in butter and salt and pepper. They declined a generous helping of fried beans hot enough to start a prairie fire. Within the hour they were back in their room again.

The hotel provided only chamberpots for its guests. It did supply Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time one for each side of the bed, however, and for that both women were grateful. Sensing Blanche’s discomfort over their situation, Teresa said, “I’m going downstairs for a newspaper. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

When Teresa returned, Blanche was in a flannel nightgown up to her neck, tied in a neat bow. She had taken her hair down and it lay like a long, glossy fan behind her head. She had drawn the covers up to her chest and lay rigidly, eyes staring straight ahead. “Relax, Blanche. Nobody’s going to bother you.” She smiled Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time reassuringly and began to undress, not afflicted with the same inhibitions as Blanche.

She used her chamberpot as discreetly as the room allowed and crawled into bed nude, saying, “I never sleep in clothes in the summer. It’s too damned hot for me.”

She reached over and turned out the lantern on the small bedside table. In the darkness she asked, “Any regrets, Blanche?”

“None,” came the confident answer.

Sun streaming in through the window woke Teresa early, but she lay in bed another two hours before stirring. Frequently, she would look over at the big woman who Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time still slept by her side. Teresa’s heart beat with excitement with the thought of the days and days ahead they would spend together. She would have to see about getting themselves East and she’d have to start today. It wouldn’t be easy, but as long as Blanche was there with her...

As much as she possibly could, she would try to make up to Blanche what she’d given up — a home, a husband, the family she had left, and the family she would have had with Steven. Maybe Blanche would get married when they reached Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time wherever it was they were going. Maybe not, too. Teresa wouldn’t mind rooming with Blanche the rest of her life. At least Blanche wouldn’t be pawing at her every night. She wouldn’t mind being held by Blanche, though, a strange thought Teresa didn’t understand but didn’t try to ignore.

Blanche, she had to admit, meant more to her than any man in her life ever had. Just knowing she’d see Blanche those Saturday mornings had made the weeks fly by, made things better. Even made her heart beat faster. She smiled remembering the excitement Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time of the drive to the river. They were good memories. But now she was where she wanted to be. And with the person she wanted to be with. Now if Lattimer just left her alone...

Stretching, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She washed quickly, using water from the big flowered porcelain pitcher and matching bowl on the dresser, then dressed hurriedly, anxious to get downstairs to breakfast. Blanche didn’t look like she’d be stirring for at least another hour.

Over coffee, Teresa asked the waiter about the next stage to Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time Preston. Filling her cup, he said, “Ain’t no stagecoach, ma’am. Everybody gits their own ride from here to Preston. Wells Fargo quit the run a year ago. No return passengers.”

Teresa exclaimed in dismay, “But that’s two hundred miles away!”

“Can’t help it, ma’am,” the waiter replied. “Nobody ever leaves here ‘cept drovers. Bunch of ‘em puffin’ out tomorrow. Might be you could get a ride on one of their wagons.”

“But there are so many people here,” she said. “Where did they all come from?”

“East,” he answered. “East. Everybody’s comin’ from the East Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time. Nobody’s goin’ thataway. This here’s a turnoff point fer west and south Texas. Can’t recall the last time somebody went East. ‘Cept for the drovers, that is. Them Yanks likes our beef.” He suggested to her, “Go over to the blacksmith shop. Maybe the smithy knows somethin’. He talks to all the drovers. He’s usually open on Sundays.”

“Yes, thank you,” Teresa answered, too stunned to say more.

No way out of Samson’s Town? It wasn’t possible. All roads ran north and south and east and west. Roads didn’t just Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time stop!

“Not all roads, ma’am,” the big bull-like blacksmith informed her. “Seems like once people get here, they either stay in Samson’s Town or head south or west. Once in a while a family will go back east but they usually go by wagon.”

“Covered wagon?” Teresa said. Her heart beat with renewed hope.

“Yep.” The big mustachioed man pumped air into a large bellows making the coals glow in a huge brick pit. “Doesn’t happen much though.”

With this information, Teresa hastened back to the hotel to find Blanche up and dressing.

Together, they Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time made their way to the dining room. The tables were nearly all occupied now, ladies eating light breakfasts with their husbands before the beginning of the day’s work. The two cowboys Teresa and Blanche had seen last night sat with elbows propped on the table holding their heads as steaming cups of coffee sat untouched before them. Two gentlemen completely dressed in black, hoslters worn low on their hips, leaned against the back wall facing the doorway. Teresa recognized their type immediately. Gamblers. Men who made a profitable living off the whiskey-saturated trailhands.

She drew long looks Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time from the pasteboard professionals but ignored them as she and Blanche took a table near the entrance.

“Ladies?” the waiter said.

“Two coffees. One breakfast,” Teresa said ordering for them both. “You’ll find the breakfast much better than supper was,” Teresa whispered as the waiter left.

“You’re so sure of yourself, Teresa,” Blanche remarked. “I wish I were more like that.”

“You will be by the time we reach the East.”

“Just where in the East did you have in mind?”

All right, Teresa honey, the smaller woman said to herself. Go ahead. Tell her just Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time where in the East you have in mind. “Blanche, I honestly can’t tell you. I don’t know.”

“But I thought you had this all planned out.” Deep concern was visible in Blanche’s eyes.

“Not exactly.”

Thankfully, the arrival of the coffee momentarily interrupted Teresa from further explanation. She took a tentative sip and then said, “We’ve got another problem right now, anyway. One we have to solve soon while we still have good weather for a couple of months.”

“Good weather? What do you mean?”

Somberly, Teresa related to Blanche what she had learned this Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time morning. “And,” she added, “we can’t spend any time here. There are people who want to know where we are and we can’t hang around to let them find out. I took the room for a week but I thought we’d be gone at least by tomorrow. Who would kill a horse to get here in one day?”

“Lattimer and Steven, not to mention my father,” Blanche suggested drily.

“Are you still willing to go on?” Teresa asked. “Or would you rather return to Starcross?” She waited for Blanche to back out. Things were already becoming difficult.

“How would Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time be the best way to get out of here?”

Teresa let out a sigh of relief, raising a small chuckle from Blanche. “The drovers would be terrible. I know all about them. Horseback would kill me within the first two days.”

“Then it’s the covered wagon,” Blanche said.

Teresa nodded thoughtfully.

“Alone.”

“That’s right. Can you drive a wagon?”

“Two-team, not four-team.”

“Would we need four?”

“I suppose not,” Blanche answered. “Not if we didn’t take everything in the world with us. We’ll sell the wagon in Preston anyway, won’t we Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time?”

“Lock, stock, and barrel. Let’s see,” Teresa pondered, chin in her hands. “We’d need grain for the horses. At least a three weeks’ supply of food. I don’t know exactly how long the trip would take.”

“Surely not three weeks,” Blanche said.

“I think so. Ten miles a day. Two hundred miles. With an extra week for whatever delays we might face.”

“Just us.”

“Right.”

“We’ll need guns, then,” Blanche said firmly. “Rifles. And pistols. I’m not going unarmed.”

Teresa agreed. “And water.”

“Where are we going to get all this?” Blanche asked Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time.

“The blacksmith shop, I think, for the wagon. If we told him what we want, he should be able to find a wagon for us.” “For how much?”

“Eat first,” Teresa told her. “Then we’ll go hear the bad news.”

A half hour later they heard the bad news. “Got a Conestoga behind the barn,” said the smithy.

“Too big,” Teresa said upon first glancing at the wagon. Still, they walked around the large Conestoga painted a bright blue beneath, bright red above, with canvas on hoops sheltering its long, boat-shaped body.

“It’s all I got, ma’am Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time,” the smithy said indifferently. “Three hundred dollars outfitted, includin’ horses and water. ‘Cept for your grub and whatever else you want to take with you. Take it or leave it.”

“Can two horses draw it?” Blanche asked.

“Big horses,” the smithy said. “If you grained and rested ‘em proper.”

With no acceptable alternative, Teresa asked, “When would it be ready?”

“Give me a week,” came the reply.

“Sooner,” Blanche said.

“No, ma’am. It needs work on the wheels and axles. Money in advance.”

Teresa reached into her purse. “In a week, then.” “It’ll be ready Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time.”

Teresa gave Blanche a confident smile and they left, with the blacksmith scratching his chin.

Back at the hotel, Teresa admitted, “That leaves us with just the money you gave me.”

“It’ll have to be enough,” Blanche answered, and ran a worried hand across her brow. “I suppose we should start buying things tomorrow, don’t you think?”

But they bought nothing, instead spending a busy day in careful planning. Not daring to be caught short, they would order enough grain and supplies to last four weeks; otherwise they would take only what they absolutely needed.

At the gun Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time shop they chose two Winchester .44 carbines and two Colt Navy .36’s from walls lined with weapons on display. They bought plenty of ammunition for their powerful and accurate hardware.

“You gettin’ ready for a war, ma’am?” the gunsmith jested.

“In a matter of speaking,” Teresa answered. “We’ll pick these up in a week.”

At the drygoods store they made prudent selections from its jam-packed interior. Hundreds of items filled every nook and cranny — tobacco goods, tinned goods, bags of coffee beans, dried beans, corn, sugar and salt, tubs and pots and pans. Pungent slabs Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time of smoked pork and beef hung from a high ceiling on thick iron hooks. Along two narrow aisles were men’s and women’s shoes, pins, needles, scissors, mens’ hats still in their original boxes, bamboo fans from the Orient, knives, guns, shells, holsters, bib overalls, pens, paper, lap slates, bolts of dyed cloth emitting a strong musty-sweet odor. The smell of leather, fresh-ground coffee, plug tobacco, spices, vinegar and nameless other fragrances mingled to tantalize the women’s noses luring them to linger longer than necessary on this busy day. One tiny corner was set aside Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time for the United States Post Office. In the middle of the crowded store sat a large pot-bellied stove, chairs surrounding it winter or summer. Blanche and Teresa slowly made their way up and down the aisles pondering each selection. Finished at last, they would pick these items up just before they left.

Later that evening over dinner, Blanche said, “I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Some dream,” Teresa scoffed.

Just as they were about to leave, a tall shadow fell across their table. Teresa looked up to see Matthew staring down at Blanche. A wide-brimmed hat, drawn low Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time over his eyes, did not hide his anger and sadness. Underneath a light coat hung a gun and holster, the first Teresa had ever seen him wear. “Hello, Blanche,” he said, completely ignoring Teresa.

“Matthew!” She did not conceal her surprise nor pleasure.

He remained standing, stern-faced, his eyes piercing. “You’re to come home with me, Blanche,” he ordered.

Tensely, wonderingly, Teresa watched the confrontation between brother and sister.

“That’s no longer possible, Matthew,” Blanche answered calmly. She reached up to put a hand on his arm. “I chose to leave with full knowledge that I Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time wouldn’t be going back.”

“You broke Mother’s heart.”

“Mother has Father. She’ll be all right.”

Matthew glanced at Teresa. “Leave us alone, Teresa.”

“She stays, Matthew,” Blanche told him sharply.

Matthew glanced first at his sister and then at Teresa. He said nothing for a long moment and then asked, “Why’d you do it, Blanche? Why’d you run off?”

“I don’t really know, yet, Matthew,” she answered. “I’m closer now to the answer, whatever it is. When I find out, I’ll let you know. I promise.”

“Steven is mad enough Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time to kill you,” Matthew told her. “Mother was crying when I left and Mable won’t come out of her room.”

“And Father?”

“I would’ve handled things a whole lot different than he did, you can be sure. Damned different.” He paused, his anger again visible in his eyes. “Where’re you going?” he demanded.

“We’re not sure. East,” Blanche said.

“You’re going with Teresa.” A flat statement. An accusation.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“It’s what I choose to do. You just have to accept that.”

He snorted with disgust and reached into his coat pocket. He pulled out Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time a large brown envelope folded in half. He handed it to his sister with a trembling hand. “Father said to give this to you.”

“What is it?”

“He didn’t tell me. A letter telling you to get home, I hope,” he said angrily.

“Matthew.”

Teresa knew that tone, the tenderness in Blanche’s voice.

Blanche said in the soft, tender voice, “You are such a trustworthy brother. I’ll miss you so.”

“You don’t have to.” He pulled a chair alongside her and sat on its front edge. “Come home with me. We’ll leave Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time early in the morning. I’ll take you home, good and safe.” He put his hand possessively on the handle of his gun.

“No, Matthew,” she said. “Please don’t waste your time asking. Do you want to stay here tonight? I’m sure there’s room. Several drovers left today.”

“I’ll get a room down the street. If I’m going to break from you, I’d rather it be right now.”

“So brave,” she said smiling. “I’ll write,” she promised.

He nodded, smiled weakly, and rose to leave. She stood with him and quickly they Chapter Eight. If it were possible for a week to drag more slowly than this one, Blanche could never remember the time hugged each other. “Please give my love to Mother and Father and Mable. And please tell Steven I’m sorry. It’s a big thing to ask of a little brother.”

“Not so little anymore,” he said. “I’ll tell them.” He gave his gun belt a manly hitch. Then Matthew was gone.


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