Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

“Lord you are touchy,” he muttered.

“And that’s another thing … if we do this …”

He looked like he was thinking about being offended then he sighed. “Whether you know it or not I’m trying to do the right thing but I suppose after all you’ve been through I shouldn’t be surprised that you wouldn’t see it that way.” He shook his head. “Let’s not get off track here. We really do need to speak of settlements if for no other reason than to get Winnie to get off my back and calmed down.”

“Winnie? What’s she got to do with it?”

“She’s female, which is to say she’s making it her business; and if Mona was here it would be even worse. The women of Kipling take that sort of thing very seriously. Look, I might not want any part of this second wife business – and I know neither do you so stop looking at me like I’m wearing manure – but it worked in a fashion once upon a time and still does for some. I don’t agree with it and don’t know if I ever would have but this is what I’m stuck … what we’re both stuck with, at least for a good long while, maybe the rest of our lifetimes. People are funny about the multiple wives thing around here. The rules were established back in the Dark Days and are still the law today.”

“The law. The law?”

He nodded. “This isn’t just a thing that affects you and I but has to be based on precedent. The Lathrops won’t want their plans to go awry. I always knew that they preferred the ways of the early days and have resisted every change that has come since but I had no idea they wanted everyone forced to go back to those days and ways.”

“Explain would you? I feel like I’m walking around in the dark.”

“I don’t have time to give you chapter and verse but the short version is that the Lathrops have always wanted to … to dominate the land and the people around here with tech and fuel has been part of that. It is one of the reasons they chose to specialize in that industry. My … my father was of a similar mind when you could get him to pull his nose out of his books and his lab to have a conversation on it.” The way he stumbled over talking about his Da told me he wasn’t comfortable with the subject. “That’s really how I started keeping company with the Lathrops; he hoped some of their industry would rub off on me.”

“Did it?”

He shrugged. “Not everything they do is bad any more than everything my father did was bad. The Corman estate isn’t completely dependent on the Lathrops for our fuel because of some of my father’s experimenting. And there isn’t anything wrong with the old tech, what remains of it and still works.”

I nodded, “I can see how that could be so. But … don’t you think that fuel thing might very well be part of why they want to take you over to begin with?”

“I have considered it now that Uncle Rob and I have spoken. And I don’t intend on it happening. I don’t like that they are trying to manage me through Francine and the estate. I don’t like that they consider me so weak that I could be manipulated like that without even a fight.”

“Have … have you thought that is why they … er … encouraged you to make a match of it with Francine.”

He wasn’t happy that I’d brought it up. “Let’s just say I’ve considered a great many things in the last couple of days and few to none of them have made me comfortable. Poor Francine, what a position to be in.”

I swear I start feeling kindly towards him and then he acts like such a lunkhead. But I suppose a man in love has to be the worst sort of lunkhead there is and being the honest woman I am I suppose that had things turned out different having a man be a lunkhead over me might have been pleasurable.

“Francine is your business, not mine so as my Da used to say, skip to the chase.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “I assume you mean let’s get back to business and I agree. And I wish I could leave Francine out of this and unaffected but the law prevents me. When I told you that all wives get an equal portion I meant that by law all wives MUST get an equal portion from their husband.”

“I’m not your wife and you’re not my …”

“In the eyes of the law I am.”

Feeling mulish I said, “I never even said any vows.”

He snorted, “Neither did I. It was all done by proxy. It can’t be undone at this point. In the future we might be able to make some kind of arrangement but there is a large cost to it and the estate can’t handle that nor would it help with the Lathrop issues.”

“Oh.”

“Oh,” he mocked before shaking his head. “Sorry. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not your fault. Intellectually I know it isn’t but … it will still take me some time to stop jumping to conclusions.”

Feeling a little mollified I said, “Well at least you’re being honest enough about it. Just don’t chew on me when it pinches because I’m being honest right back when I say this is cutting at me more than taking my toe off did. That was a simple enough thing that I knew would soon be over and healing would begin. This feels like I’m going to be sawed on for the rest of eternity.”

A troubled look met my words. I don’t think he much cared for my analogy but I wasn’t in the mood to care very much whether he did or not, it was the way I felt. And then he said, “Settlements are pieced out by law. I can give nothing to Francine that I do not give to you unless it involves the care and well-being of an heir.”

“Well that’s fair stupid.”

He shrugged, “Don’t blame me. The first generation of Kipling women are the ones who worked it out and wrote it in the stone of the laws and attached harsh penalties to go with it. I already have a hard enough time making sure there is enough coin for Francine after I’ve paid what is due to each of the estate’s creditors. This is going to cut her portion in half.”

I’d already heard that Francine spent more than she should but I wasn’t going to take that up with him. “Why would I need anything?”

“You might not but Francine is used to finer things than what she has gotten here. Now she’ll have even less.”

I could see he was getting agitated and I told him, “Cor, I wouldn’t even know what to do with coins. I’ve seen no place to spend them and I already have what I need. I know it takes a lot to care for a family … my Da never hid that we sometimes barely scraped by despite being one of the only smithies in a wide area. And you are trying to repair things leftover from …” I sighed. “Left over from before you were a grown man.”

“You mean my father’s debts.”

“You said you didn’t want to speak of him.”

“No, I don’t. But I’m not hiding from the truth either. And … and I appreciate that you … understand the situation and that I don’t have to explain it all. I’ve tried to explain the seriousness to Francine but I don’t believe she has the training to really understand what it means.”

I didn’t think she was that stupid and I begin to wonder if she isn’t doing it a bit at a time to try and keep him in debt. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be a fine joke on them if you took this half that you say I have to have by law and applied it to the debt to pay it off faster?”

He gave me a sharp look and I thought at first he was mad. Instead he asked, “You would honestly do that?”

I shrugged and then had to stop as it pulled at a sore muscle. “It just seems to me that the faster you get out from under them nasty bills the faster we can figure out the rest of what life is going to be like and can settle to it. It would also mean them Lathrops had less they could hold over your head … and therefore mine.”

Carefully he said, “The law was meant to protect wives from that sort of thing.”

“Protect them from having it done without their say so. What if I say so?”

He gave me a considering look. “It … it may not come to that. Let’s just … not talk about it. Do you know how to handle coins?”

I rolled my eyes. “Well I want eat them or shove them up my nose if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Fel, please don’t make this any harder than it has to be. I can’t assume …” He sighed and I felt a little bad.

“Yes Cor, I know how to handle coins though I suppose Kipling’s coins will be different from those that were used in the Outlands. Gran was a bear about getting the best bargain at the markets and when I was a little girl she started having trouble with her bones so I went with her. For a woman who could neither read nor write she managed better than most with the merchants. She wasn’t against paying a fair price for something but she would make your life a misery if you tried to cheat her.”

“So you can handle coins. That’s good. I have to leave letters of credit with the merchants because Francine was always misplacing what I would leave for her.”

I had a nasty thought pop into my head but caught it before it could leave my lips. “What kind of coins do you have here?”

“Kipling uses silver ingots with a simple weight stamp on them for the most part though the council treasury keeps gold for the use of the settlement. Bars of lead and iron are also used though not in the same way silver coins are.”

“There was some silver coins that crossed my Da’s hand but most folks weighted out copper and gold in the market if they had it. We usually bartered. I know coins have their uses – sure is better than carrying around a sack of chickens or a bushel of corn – but they also can cause problems.”

“They are the primary means of commerce at the markets.”

“Well I don’t need a letter or the coin, if there is something I need I’ll make it for myself. I helped to feed and dress my sisters by hunting, and doing only for myself would be no great problem. Unless you’re saying that I’m not allowed to hunt.”

“I have no problem if you like to hunt. Aunt Winnie does … or did … and liked to see the fruits of her labor on the dinner able. That brings something up that Mrs. Wiley mentioned. I see you prefer hides; would you not like some cotton? It is cooler.”

“Cotton costs. I used to have some linsey Woolsey things but they wore out. Leather wears better for what I need and doesn’t tear so easy. Of course I see the women here don’t dress the same, is that what you mean?”

An honest man he nodded. “Some but there’s no need for you to get offended. I prefer leathers when I’m on a run but they do get hot and this year has been a scorcher and it has only now just turned May. How you could abide it in the Outlands year round is beyond me. The estate has several cotton fields and the rice you’ve seen in the pantry come from our fields as well. It is one of the things that the ArKanses territory exports to other regions. We used to have to compete with Louseanne territory but after the Mississippi moved they haven’t been able to keep it up as well.”

“Da told me of the great earthquake that made that happen. He said whole cities disappeared under the mud leaving barely a trace behind. They just sunk like they’d been built on quicksand.”

He nodded and said, “It happened when my grandfather was a boy; he wrote about it in his journal. And the river still hasn’t corrected to where it once flowed. Which comes back to the fact that if you have no trouble taking your portion from the goods the estate sells …”

“And there is no way for me to get out of being beholden?”

He shook his head. “The law makes it so the estate is … er … ‘beholden’ to you, not the other way around.”

“Well I don’t see it like that. What would I be expected to do with … with this portion you expect me to take?”

“I would like you to take it so I can continue to give to Francine what she deserves as my wife.” I wasn’t even touching that one. “As for what you can do with it, I have no say. That is part of the law too.”

“This law you keep talking about sounds loopy.”

He gave a sarcastic chuckle. “You aren’t the first to mention it but if I had to guess you would be the first woman to feel that way.”

“Fine. Do what you must and let’s get this over with.”

“Very well, I’ll draw up the papers. Next thing …”

“There’s more?” I asked aggrieved that we couldn’t leave the uncomfortable subject behind.

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