Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 30

Chapter 30

September starts the weather change in this part of the land, or so I am told. The first of the month started as hot as August had ever been but soon mellowed and became pleasant; a welcome change from sweating out my sheets every night; forcing me to hang them up every morning to keep them from turning sour.

The weather might have been pleasant but other things were not. I grow tired of the endless parade of visitors. There is far too much work to waste time playing at all this entertaining even if I do understand the reason behind it. I just don’t understand how any of them get their work done gallivanting all over the territory. I understand that the Corman estate along with the Jackson estate are two of the most agrarian families and therefore have more work in the summer than say Acer estate that primarily operates the printing and bookbinding equipment near the fort.

For us winter is the time to relax – or at least take longer breaks – and make time for visiting. Francine has shrugged off my complaints and says that winter is the time several estates do the majority of their work. The Dunellons who work mines melt lead into bars while they also operate coal mines and an old diamond field. The Richelieu estate provides high skill in metalwork of all types and are in partnership with the Dunellons to whom they are closely related to; both families mine iron ore as well as trade for it from other territories. The Havertys are a small artisan estate that specializes in glass, clay, and specialized carpentry. The Kim and O’Reilly families are weavers of cloth and other fine textiles.

Each estate seems to have a specialty that makes them a vital part of the whole. Now that I see the bigger picture I begin to understand why that controlling Council has been so concerned with the estates that are in danger of ceasing to exist. Yes, there is a bloodline factor to it but there is also the very real worry that losing a part makes the whole weaker, of not having anyone left that is trained in the trade. But understanding their motivations does not mean I agree with their chosen solutions. I still get angry and struggle with what has happened to me; and lately it has been hard not to direct that anger at the people who are interfering with what I am trying to accomplish.

I can't demonize the whole lot of them though I am sorely tempted to. Some of the guests have been nice but most are just irritating and nosy or puffed up with their own consequence. A few like to stare down their noses at the Outland savage but I suppose I have to admit there are only a few that are quite that bad and the ones that are seem to be women with sons who need to marry. Seems to me that if they were so all fired concerned with the kind of females their sons brought home that they’d be the ones going out to hunt them up for them. But I guess that would be too logical for the likes of them.

And yes, as the Captain warned, a few men have given me attentions that made me uncomfortable. Compared to what I had to deal with back in my town all of but one or two are nothing but puppies but there were a couple that I came close to giving violence after their hands went places there was no excuse for them going. One did wake up after being dumb enough to get drunk and wander out to the outhouse only to find out he’d gotten locked in for the night. Who’s to say just how it happened; drunks are awful stupid most of the time and can’t remember half of what all they get up to when they are in that condition.

I debated but then felt forced to mention to Francine what I was dealing with.

"Yes," she sighed. "It is a problem."

Surprised I almost yelped, "They've bothered you?!"

Having some man hassle me wasn't new and I had learned from long and often bitter experience how to deal with it. She looked at me with an understanding I hadn't expected and it for a fact startled me for than a little bit. "Fel there are too few women in Kipling and the surrounding territories in general. More specifically there are nowhere near enough women for male offspring of the first families. That's the only reason they'd be so desperate they would bring in females from places as far away as the Outlands and the Southern Region where it is well known people aren’t much above savages.” I rolled my eyes at that but let it go. Her idea of what was savage and my idea were so different it almost couldn’t be measured. “One pair of brothers went clear to the Nevada Coastline to get themselves suitable brides a few years ago. It took them five years but when they did come back with a few other women besides – you haven’t met them as they are related to the Keystones who hold land in the far northeast corn of our territory. That incident is what initially encouraged the council to seek available females beyond this side of the Mississippe.”

Well it was nice to know such a cockamamie plan hadn’t materialized out of thin air. Oblivious to my opinion she added, “Just because our Kipling men are civilized doesn't mean that they don't suffer from the same urges as the men you've been exposed to. Ours are better trained but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally give in to their baser instincts. Men are men and very few seem capable of rising above their natural born desires. Elder Lathrop is one of the few who has always risen above some behavior - I wish you could meet him Fel as it is hard to explain to someone of your limited experience - and I measure all other men by the example he sets."

I wasn't sure what to make of that last part. I wanted to ask how Cor measured up next to her Saint Lathrop but some things are none of my business thank goodness. It was enough for me not to have to worry about Francine's honor as well as my own. Seems she knows what to look for and what to avoid. I wasn't foolish however; I asked Mrs. Wiley to make sure there was always a widow or other older lady present to be an extra set of eyes and ears.

The other unpleasant factor of having so many guests is that we were using up our resources as fast as we could set them aside, or at least that is the way it felt. That began to frustrate me to such an extent that I pulled Jonah and Mrs. Wiley aside and said, "We can't keep on at this rate. I feel like we are feeding hogs at the trough."

They both gave me tired laughs. Mrs. Wiley said, "Try cleaning up after ‘em Gilly."

Concerned I asked, "Do you need more help? I can switch some of the children off harvesting."

"Naw. Got plenty o' help; can only has so many in the house at a time. This'll stop as soon as some serious cold sets in."

I turned to Jonah. "How about you? Need to switch some bodies around?"

He shook his head. "It's going fair. Could be better, could be worse but nothing worth changing the work charts over. Do need ter lock up the tobaccy as we got ter much borrowing going on by some. Has ter keeps the spirit cellar double latched fer the same reason. Now if the harvest wasn't so good we might be in trouble but ain't ter bad for now; can't keep this up ferever though."

I nodded and sat back. "That's what I think too. We're using too much of the extra we've been blessed with in the home gardens and orchards. I have some ideas but I don't want anything to reflect badly on us."

Jonah said, "Spit it out Gilly. Can't know til you tell us."

"Ok. I say we stop serving all that fancy food at meal times and mix it with plain fare like we eat when there's no guests around. "

Jonah was uncomfortable with my suggestion. "I don't know Gilly," he said. "The Estate has always set a real good table."

Mrs. Wiley on the other hand seemed to see some of what I was getting at. "Mebbee. Give us a fer example."

"You know that fancy soufflé of greens you make with the cut greens from the greenhouse? What about instead of that we use wild greens? I doubt most would be able to tell the difference, they shovel it in like a bunch of hungry chickens anyway." As I saw that she was nodding I added, "Same thing could be done with that cream of greens dish you make."

Looking between us Jonah started to get what I had been aiming at and finally started nodding. Mrs. Wiley smiled and said, "Got me some ideas along that line too since yer bring itu p. Acorns are coming in and if you'd set some youngins to cracking' 'em and leaching the bitter out I'll use acern flour to piece out the wheat and rice flours and cornmeal. Ladies could have acern muffins up in their rooms with their morning tea and the men can eat boiled eggs since we ain't short of ‘em with acern griddle bread and cattail pollen pancakes. We can fancy it up some by putting the syrups and preserves in the pretty servin' pieces and since we still got plenty of melons, pears, and apples coming in we can have a big bowl o mixed fruit fer whoever wants it. What fruit don't get et for breakfast can be blended into a fruit sauce fer the meat condiment at the dinner table."

Really into the spirit of the game I said, "And instead of fancy cakes we can fix jam tarts, ground cherry pies and nut pies.. And if you don't already do it here I know of a way to make seasoned nuts to nibble on - like pecans toasted with chives or black walnut sticks - instead of those sugar confections that take so much time to fix."

The other thing Mrs. Wiley recommended as the weather cooled off was to have a first course of soup or broth. Cream of black walnut soup, dandelion broth, garlic and herb soup, and allium broth all made it to the table and no one was the wiser that we were feeding them what some would have called poor folks food. Whether it was or whether it wasn't there were no questions or complaints so we didn't enlighten them. Adding the broth or soup helped to control appetites in all but the most gluttonous of the guests.

I tried to leave the guests to Francine as much as possible but some seem to invariably find their way to wherever I am and will quiz me about how the estate is doing. Most were not rude. Most are just curious. For instance, they want to know why we left no fallow fields. I tell them, "We do, we simply put all of the home gardens into production this year as part of the rotation." Which is true as far as it goes but I’m not going to be laughed at for believing in old wives tails. The apple orchards and crabapples are a favorite destination for the ladies who like to go for a daily walk and I make sure they can sample the latest batch of cider straight from the press if they choose.

Pumpkins, winter squash, and sweet potatoes are being harvested every day and go into the cellar in great piles, enlivening the dark space with their bright fall colors. Along with that fruit we collected bushels of muscadines and persimmons, and baskets of the bright yellow wild maypops that are the fruit of the passionflower.

I have been collecting flowers, herbs, and wild plants ever since Docia’s medicine box arrived to remind me and this month I added chamomile, evening primrose, sumac berries, clover, and chicory root. Some of the women collected juniper berries for flavoring but we didn’t have such where I’m from so I don’t know all that much about them. Large, loosely woven bags hang from the floor joists and they are full of black walnuts, chinquapins, acorns, hickory nuts, and pecans. Ropes of garlic and onions adorn the upstairs pantry and wreaths of peppers hang like decorations on many doors.

There is a lot of satisfaction is seeing the evidence of our work. It carries me through the day and I can smile. It is only at night, alone in the cabin – supposedly mine though it is still hard for me to claim real ownership of it – when I think of Docia and Hannah and the rest of my sisters and feel so left out. I think of the lives they are living and though I’m happy for them and grateful that they have security and a chance at a better life than the Headman wanted for us, there is a part of me that is jealous.

I know it is a foolish thing to feel that way. It isn’t particularly sisterly either. And in the dispatches from the Captain I always have a letter from someone, usually more than one, and some small gift or remembrance. The Captain is nice enough to make sure my replies to them get forwarded along but it isn’t the same as having them here to hug and scold and laugh with by turn. Maybe I understand Francine’s feelings more than I’ll admit to anyone else.

But then again, maybe I don’t. It is near to turning October and I am about to have to suffer one last set of visitors. I don’t know whether to be happy these are the last or to be anxious because of who they are. The Captain sent a special courier to me to warn me as soon as he found out. This group beyond all of the others has the power to cause us trouble.

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