Today's Reading

Jolted and rocked, Kathryn thought back to the night before she left Boston. Her mother and stepfather had gone to the theater with friends. Kathryn dined in the kitchen with staff. Saying goodbye to people she loved had been heart-wrenching. Any hope of changing her mother's mind had ended the next morning when the judge joined her in the entrance hallway and informed her that he would be accompanying her to the train station to see her off. She had the feeling he wanted to make sure she got on the train and stayed on it.

Lawrence Pershing didn't speak to her until they had almost reached the station. Then he extracted an envelope from his inside coat pocket. "This document transfers your mother's rights to the inheritance to you. Whatever property your uncle possessed upon his death is yours. I doubt it's much. I've added enough money to give you a start. If you are frugal and wise," he added with a hint of sarcasm, "it will last until you find a suitable trade. I've paid your passage to Truckee. It will be up to you to find your way to Calvada from there."

A trade. What would that be? She had more education than most women, largely due to sneaking into the judge's library and pilfering books. But none of what she'd learned would provide her with a trade.

The stagecoach bounced abruptly, shocking Kathryn back to her present circumstances. She felt air between her and the seat, and then landed with a hard thud that drew an unladylike grunt. Cussler shouted profane insults at the horses and cracked the whip. When the coach swayed, Kathryn had to brace herself. Her midnight-blue skirt and jacket were gray with dust, her teeth gritty. Her head itched despite the hat covering her hair. How long until the next stop? Parched, she tried not to think about how good a glass of cold, clear water would taste.

Four others had ridden with her the first day, each getting off along the way. Henry Call, a bespectacled gentleman in his early thirties, met the coach at the last station. He joined her for a meal of questionable stew. The proprietor swore it was chicken, but Cussler said it tasted like rattlesnake. Kathryn preferred not to know, too hungry to care anyway. After the meal, Mr. Call handed her into the coach, where conversation ceased, both of them understanding that any attempt might result in a mouthful of road dust. He opened his satchel and extracted a file. Now and then, he removed and cleaned his glasses.

Cussler hollered, "Whoa," and the coach came to halt. He continued shouting, using words Kathryn didn't understand, but which turned Mr. Call's face red.

"You idjit! What do you think you're doing, stepping out in the road like that?"

A gruff, laughing voice replied, "How else am I gonna get a ride?"

"Buy a ticket like everyone else!"

"You gonna let me ride or leave me for bear bait?"

Kathryn looked at Mr. Call in alarm. "Are there bears out here?"

"Yes, ma'am. Plenty of grizzlies in these mountains."

As if the ratio of men to women wasn't worrisome enough! Now she had to worry about the animal life as well?

The stagecoach door popped open and a man wearing a sweat-stained, battered hat climbed aboard. Lifting his gray-streaked, bearded face, he saw Kathryn. "Holy Jehoshaphat! A lady!" His ruddy, aging face split with a grin. Still bent over, he took off his hat. "Well, I wasn't expecting to see anyone like you!"

Kathryn could have said the same.

The coach started off again, tossing the old man back. Sprawled beside Mr. Call, he expelled a foul word she had heard a hundred times from Cussler over the last forty-eight hours. He stuck his head out the window. "Hey, Cussler, when you gonna learn to drive? You tryin' to kill me?"

"I shudda driven over you and left your carcass in the road," Cussler shouted back.

The newcomer laughed, not the least insulted, and settled back in his seat. "Beggin' your pardon, ma'am. Didn't mean nothin' by it. Me and Cussler go back a long way."

Kathryn gave him a pained smile and closed her eyes. She had a headache, along with other assorted aches and pains. It had taken all her willpower at the last stage stop not to rub her backside when she'd climbed down from the coach.

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