October turned into November and we got unexpected visitors in the form of a couple of Francine’s “cousins” and one of her “aunts.” By this time I had gotten curious enough to ask Cor what was up with all of the female relatives that Francine had and he explained the cousins were cousins but not related by birth but through one of her father’s wives’ sisters. The “aunt” was basically related the same way.
“Doesn’t that give you a headache trying to keep that stuff straight in your head?” I asked him as we sat in front of the cabin fireplace drinking some warm cider and waiting for the sun to go down so we could go to bed without embarrassing the daylights out of each other.
“Pretty much,” he admitted. “That’s why all I can give you is a general description and not specifically who or how they are related. And unless you want a headache too, don’t ask her for her family genealogy. The whole lot of them will start citing chapter and verse and it will take the rest of the year and you’ll end just as confused as you started.”
I laughed although in a sense I suppose it wasn’t funny. I imagine keeping who all you are related to and how closely would be serious business in a society where multiple marriages were the rule. The Lathrops had once been one of the largest families within the Kipling territory. The plague that took so many girl children had hit them inordinately hard in part due to how closely packed they were in their living arrangements. It probably led, at least in part, to how … er … forceful they are being about making their lifestyle more acceptable in other Kipling families.
I could laugh, despite how serious the consequences had been for the Lathrops and through that now for Cor and I as they strove to reinvent their way of life, because Cor and I were easier in each other’s company. Easier that is in almost any place excepting the bed part. He still got up at some point to sleep in the rocker. Sometimes it seems that he is afraid of me … or himself. I’d try and put him at ease but I’m not sure it would do any good and I don’t like to waste breath on fruitless endeavors. We get along fine and that’s all I really look for. And it’s nice to have someone to talk to that I don’t have to play pretend with. I know what everyone else thinks and while I mean for them to think it, it still bothers me some that they can yet know me the way they do.
Truth be told I didn’t want to upset Cor by bringing all of that up too much. Unlike September and October, November was a slow month. September we had the garden and harvesting. October there was that first early freeze with unseasonably cold weather behind it and then the animal slaughtering and getting all the cuts of meat and sausage and the like into the smoke house or dried into jerky. After all that November was just plain boring. There was nothing to do. It was hard to find ways to keep myself busy. Francine and her female relatives have the house. Mrs. Wiley has the kitchen. What little bit of outdoor work there is Jonah takes care of and when I try to help he shoo’s me off. The cabin isn’t a lot of work to keep up with so that leaves hunting to keep me occupied and sometimes it is just too cold to do that. The only relief from my own company is the time that Cor spends with me.
On the one hand I resent Francine and her family forcing me into this ridiculous act of pretending I am Cor’s wife. On the other hand … well the other hand doesn’t bear looking at too closely if I can help it. Actually spending time with a man and learning to consider him a friend is not something I had ever thought would happen. I consider my Da a special person and no one like him existed after he died. Now Cor is nowhere near up to taking my Da’s place, no one ever will, but he isn’t difficult to have around now that some of his nervous puppy-ness has been gotten under control. He is a wonderful partner to hunt with.
Unlike my sisters I don’t constantly have to shush him. Cor is big and wiry but he doesn’t tromp through the woods like some I have seen. Jonah is the only one that beats him and Jonah is small and wiry though he has gotten almost too cautious since the bear smacked him good. Jonah’s caution is what started Cor coming into the forest with me. Trying to teach Topher and the other boys to hunt during the winter was a frustrating effort; they figured if there was enough domestic animals to eat why waste the energy hunting. I was looking for something useful to do so I was bringing in a bit of fresh meat and Cor started going with me when I finally admitted the boys weren’t worth the effort.
“You don’t need to follow me all over the place Cor. I’ve been hunting since I was old enough to follow my Da’s footprints.”
“Maybe,” he rumbled. “But you wouldn’t deny a drowning man a rope now would you?”
I looked at him and asked, “What are you going on about now?”
“I can only hide in my office for so long before I’m pried out to come look at something, listen to something, give my opinion on something … I’ve had enough.”
Figuring out he meant Francine and her family I smiled. “So you’re saying I’m rescuing you?”
He shrugged. “Might as well be saying that. Let’s just get while the getting is good or they might pull you into whatever they are getting up to next. Unless you want to play cards or listen to one of them read some lecture on the state of the family in Kipling.”
I’m smart enough to recognize a threat when I hear one so we got … just as fast as we could.
After that we went hunting pretty often. Not every day of course because Cor had estate responsibilities that took him in different directions. Sometimes he would even take me with him. That’s how I got to see the paper mill, the grist mill, and the huge silos where the rice harvest and other grains were kept. Occasionally on these outings I got some funny looks. I never know if it is because of being an Outlander, being female, or supposedly being a 2nd wife.
I enjoyed getting out around the estate and seeing things but after a particular incident Cor wouldn’t let me come with him anymore.
“What did you want me to do Cor? Let that man take me?”
Cor was still so angry there was steam coming off of him. “Of course not. I’m not blaming you for having to cut him. I’m angry because one of my own men – a worker on my own estate – would … would …”
“You can’t control everything Cor. And so long as you aren’t mad at me then I’m fine. Just forget about it.”
“Forget about it?!!”
I winced at his volume. “Geez, no need to get so loud you knock the birds from the trees. I can see why you’d be upset. I’m not exactly happy myself. I just mean I’m fine … as my Da would say no permanent dents or discolorations. You don’t need to fall apart over this.”
He’d still been so angry by the time we got back to the estate he had told me to go to my cabin. Well fine I thought but I did stay there just because I didn’t feel like making a big huge explanation of everything. But then he shows back up well after dark and he’s still roasting hot with anger.
“I … am … not … falling apart,” he growled. “I take loyalty very seriously. I placed that man in a position of responsibility because in the past he had proven I could trust him. The fact that he would abuse that trust, be so disloyal, and to try to …”
I finally got him to sit down in the rocker and drink a mug of something warm. “Cor. Listen to what I’m saying. He’s not the first man to try to … to force himself on me. Now wait, just hear me out. No need to get so frayed around the edges.” Once he had settled back down I said, “If he had tried this with Francine it would be a different situation but I know the look that was on that man’s face. I’ve seen it on the face of others … some were even guests in your house. I’m nothing more than an Outlander trull to some of them. They don’t think it is fair that you have a pretty wife and also have a useful whore.”
He slammed the mug down so hard he almost cracked it, sloshing cider over the table I kept between the rocker and chair. “Will you stop saying that?! You are not a … I’m not even going to repeat it. I don’t want to ever hear you say that again.”
I snorted. “I know I’m not. You know I’m not. Most folks don’t treat me like I am. But face it Cor, you aren’t the only one this side of the Lathrop estate that can’t wrap your head around the idea of having more than one wife. To many Francine isn’t just your first wife she is your only wife. I was only seeing our side of things until you took me around to other parts of the estate. If it is the Lathrop’s plan to spread their way of life through all of Kipling, I’m thinking they have a lot further to go than they probably suspect. Add to that the shortage of marriageable females you’ve got around this place and it is going to be just plain awful for some men. In hindsight I’m surprised there haven’t been more problems than there have been.”
Twisting his neck this way and that Cor tried to let some of his anger go. “There’s been problems, they’ve just been managed. We lost a lot of male children to the plague too so we aren’t in as bad a shape in that respect as some of the surrounding territories are – the ratio is bad but not catastrophic so long as females continue to at least trickle in. We also send groups off on exploration runs, trade and barter runs, tech and resource collection runs, and other avenues the council is using to bleed off some of the tension.”
“Well, there you go. And part of that man’s problem might be that he lost his wife not that long ago to another man. Might have made him a little crazy.”
Cor shook his head, “I refuse to allow that to be an excuse. That was a choice he made, not something he was incapable of controlling. He deserves the punishment that is coming to him.”
I let it go. Cor can be as stubborn and as unmovable as a wall when he sets his mind to it so that was the end of me going around with him. He must have sensed though that I was getting bored and worried that it would lead me to mischief because when he went off someplace he would come back and tell me what he’d done and seen. Sometimes he would even bring his account books and work on them at the cabin explaining that Francine and the others were banging away in the music room and creating too much racket for him to think.
When Cor wasn’t around or we weren’t out hunting I was working on some projects of my own. I started with a pair of leather slippers for Cor to wear when he was in the cabin. The moccasins let him leave his boots at the door instead of tracking in mud; it was just too cold anymore to go barefooted even with the fireplace lit up and roaring. I made him a coon skin hat from one particularly fat fellow that had been turning pig on what he snitched from the pumpkin patch back in late summer. The biggest piece however was a leather hunting overshirt that he could wear to keep his cotton shirts from getting snagged to pieces when he was out in the part of the forest where the trees grow so close together you sometimes have to wiggle between them.
I owed him for all those presents he gave me and for making my life better than it was even with all the unnecessary complications we had to deal with. But I don’t guess I did him any favors because after Francine caught him wearing the hat and overshirt she accused him of “going Outlander” just to spite her and that she was so embarrassed to have had her cousins and aunt see him dressed like that.
Francine didn’t use a lot of sense in how she attacked him and he took to wearing the hat and shirt everywhere just to irritate her I think. I snuck it out of the laundry to try and keep the peace but he came stomping down to the cabin asking me where it had gone to.
“Don’t drop the flap on your long johns. I put it away until you and Francine calm down and can act as civilized as you claim to be. I know she didn’t have the sense not to get you riled up but you don’t have to egg her on the way you’ve been doing either. What’s got into you anyway?”
He grabbed the tea kettle and seemed happy to find something in it for his mug then flopped down into the rocker. “I don’t know. We were getting along fine … really good in fact. She hasn’t had one of them headaches in a while. Then out of the blue she’s started acting strange again. She expects me to work all day and then get dressed fancy for dinner and then stay up what feels like half the night entertaining her and her family. She complains I have started to act too rough and that I never listen to her.”
“Do I what?”
“Listen to her.”
“Of course I do … at least when she is making sense. She started on about me getting another wife the other day – in front of her family no less – and I just got up and walked out of the room rather than make a scene. I can’t believe she would bring that up again. And if it isn’t that she’s going on about all the wonderful things she misses about the Lathrop estate. She’s trying to talk me into all of us going to visit them and I am not – absolutely not – doing that until after I pay off what I owe to them and can do it as a free man.”
That was a bad day and I finally appeased Cor by suggesting he wear the gear when we were hunting or if he wanted to he could wear it around the cabin but that wearing it just to put Francine in a snit wasn’t the best use of his time.
Other days they would be so sappy sweet it would curdle your stomach. I swear Francine could live the life of a queen if she would just let up a little bit on some subjects. All she has to do is just barely offer him encouragement and he is sniffing at her heels. It is sweet in a nauseating kind of way. Not that I do a lot of watching. Francine’s cousin, the one named Glyssen, caught me one time and she started to giggle and say wasn’t it just the cutest thing. Gag. I guess it was cute but it is too much when force fed a steady diet of the stuff.
As November turned to December the first real snow fell and I wound up more alone than ever as Cor, Jonah, and a lot of other estate people were busy tending to repairs, cattle, and I don’t what all that got complicated by the bad weather.