Lord of Misrule
A "Behind the Ranges" Novella
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-126-4
"...not only love but also the beginning of a marriage."
The trees along the river had mostly been cut, Katie saw, as they got close to town. Only shrubby willows and cottonwood saplings lined the banks now. The light skiff of snow made the torn new earth stand out in dark contrast. "Ma says the new house is the first one you see from the river, but I don't really know where--"
"There," Luke said, pointing. "Is it that one?"
Katie could only stare. Ma hadn't told her they were building a castle.
Luke hadn't expected a log cabin. The Lachlan's new house was in a town, after all, even if that town was a long ways from anywhere. He'd seen grand stone houses in frontier towns in Kansas, so he knew that Boise City would have its share of impressive homes. But somehow he had expected the Lachlans to have something...well, homey.
Almost everything Katie had told him was about her childhood in a mountain valley with only one other family within a day's ride. Folks who'd chosen to live like that wouldn't worry about putting on the dog. He'd sort of expected their new house to be a big, rambling place, with a wide, welcoming front porch. Like the house his pa had wanted to build in Kansas.
This house came as close to a mansion as anything he'd seen since Chicago. Or it looked that way from here. They couldn't see a lot of it, because the barn was in the way, but what they could see was impressive.
As they rode up the narrow, rutted road from the river, he got a better look at it. Three stories, with a square turret on one corner, built of red brick and dark wood. The mullioned windows sparked in the pale winter sun. Lines of young trees, bare of leaf and spindly, bordered the property on all sides. He reckoned there was about five acres thus enclosed, half of it a fenced pasture. Off in one corner of the lot was a small cottage, its siding looking fresh from the sawmill.
Prime land. Just like he wanted for himself.
"Oh, my," Katie said.
"What?" He was shorter with her than he'd intended, simply because he was still speechless.
"Ma told me they were building a place big enough for us all to have bedrooms of our own, but I never expected..." Her gesture took in the big yard, the rows of young trees, the three small evergreens on what might be a lawn in the summer.
Feeling like he'd rather turn tail and run than face her family, Luke waved her ahead of him toward the barn. "Let's take care of the stock first."
The back half of the barn's interior was lined with horse stalls. No folks were about, but the big buckskin Emmet Lachlan had been riding in Evanston poked his head over a stall door and whuffled a welcome. As Luke dismounted, a door opened at the back. "About time you got here," a raspy voice called. "The missus has been waiting for them...oh, can I help you folks?"
Before Luke could answer, his wife did. "I'm Katie Lachlan... ah, Katie Savage," She slid off of Salome's back, stumbled, and caught herself with a handful of mane. "This is the Lachlan place, isn't it?"
"You must be the sister. They've been expecting you for a couple of days,. I'm Abel Greene, hostler, gardener, and all 'round man of work." He held out his left hand, and Luke saw that his right arm ended just below the elbow. The man's accent was familiar to Luke. It placed him from somewhere in the Confederacy.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Greene. "Katie took his left hand as if she'd been shaking hands that way all her life. Luke was proud of her. He'd seen too many battle-scarred veterans treated like dirt because they didn't have a full complement of hands and feet.
"Luke Savage," He said, holding out his own left hand. "Late of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry."
"I was with the 14th Mississippi, but I don't reckon that matters much any more. Not out here."
Having dismounted. Luke pulled the saddle from Idjit and swung it across a saddle horse. He led the big hinny into a stall. "I'll be back, old lady," he said, giving her a gentle swat on the rump. Let me get everyone settled."
Abel and Katie were just emerging from two other stalls, where, Luke surmised, they'd put the asses. Luke went to Lafayette, who was standing patiently.
The big mule looked gaunt, as well he should. He'd walked halfway across the West in the last couple of months, and had carried a good load most of the time. Scratching under Lafe's chin, Luke said, "Time to rest, fella. We ain't going much of anywhere for awhile."
Lafe nodded vigorously, as if in understanding. He let his head droop while Luke rubbed him down, then followed Luke into the stall Abel pointed out. Luke made sure there was an ample supply of grain, then gave Lafe one last pat. "You got us here, fella. Now rest."
"You treat that mule like he was your best friend," Katie teased. She was grooming Salome, dodging the ass's teeth with the ease of two months' practice.
"At least I don't spoil him with sugar," he said. "And he never tries to take a piece out of me, either."
Abel helped Katie groom the asses while Luke took care of Idjit. When they were done, they sorted through their belongings and took only the fiddle case and Luke's bedroll to the house.
"Abel says they all took off early today," Katie said, as if in answer to Luke's curiosity about why no one had come to meet them. "Ma's in a tizzy, with all the folks coming for Christmas, and she's off to the grocer and the butcher and whatever. Pa and the littles are out looking for a Christmas tree. They'll not be back until tomorrow, so you won't have to get everyone straight at one time."
"Did he say how many folks are coming for Christmas?" Luke said, his belly clenching. Meeting all of Katie's family at one time was bad enough. Facing a house full of strangers was about as welcome to him as riding head-on into a herd of stampeding longhorns.