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What Once We Loved

Jane Kirkpatrick

  Praise for

  What Once We Loved

  “Masterful storytelling continues in this real-as-rain portrayal of the Oregon-California 1850 s frontier. Big-hearted heroines face past and present challenges with unswerving dreams and hardscrabble labor. Eventually, their faith and friendship triumph over daily struggles and wrongheaded past decisions… A compelling tale.”

  —Craig Lesley, author of The Sky Fishermanand Storm Riders

  “Jane Kirkpatricks What Once We Loved is a mesmerizing tale of strong women in a heart-breaking time. A priceless story not to be missed!”

  —Angela Elwell Huntauthor of The Note

  “Fascinating, courageous women in a beautiful, yet challenging setting come full circle in their lives and loves together, making this the crowning glory of the Kinship and Courage series.”

  —Randall Plattauthor of The Cornerstoneand Honor Bright

  “I am proud to hand-sell this incredible series on a daily basis. What Once We Lovedbr'mgs our eleven frontier women to their final purposes. Again Jane weaves their individual stories together with tenderness and great compassion. Following these women along their historical paths has been a powerful journey.”

  —Robin PowersSt. Helens Book Shop

  “Jane s characters live on the page. What Once We Loved is a book that draws the reader in to lie in a cool stream on a hot day—first your toes, then your knees… Before you know it, you are swimming and the book becomes impossible to put down.”

  —Linda Hallauthor of Sadies Song, Katheryns Secret, and Margarets Peace

  Praise for Books One and Two

  in the Kinship and Courage Series:

  All Together in One Place and No Eye Can See

  “Rich in detail, All Together in One Place is the compelling story of a band of pioneering women as told in Jane Kirkpatricks unique style. Here is the journey west as women saw it—burdensome and often cruel, yet not without moments of compassion, love, and humor.”

  —Jack Cavanaughbest-selling author of While Mortals Sleepand The Puritans

  “Come enjoy Jane Kirkpatricks No Eye Can See, a novel that captures the rich historical path of eleven women pioneers. A new life awaits, one that will require courage, love, and faith even greater than the journey west. They are building for themselves and their families a place to call home. No Eye Can See comes alive under Jane s pen, a tapestry of faith woven together in beautiful words. It is a book that should not be missed by those who want to feel and breathe the journey west to settle a new frontier.”

  —Dee Hendersonaward-winning author of The O'Malley Series

  “No Eye Can See breathes with authenticity, nourishes with its depiction of women of courage, and inspires with its simplicity. It is truly an expe rience in faith and hope.”

  —Patricia Lucas Whitebest-selling author of Edwina Parkhurst, Spinster

  “No Eye Can See is a poignant story of compassion, courage, and tender relationships. Rich with hope, it spoke gently to my heart.”

  —Alice Grayeditor of the Stones for a Woman's Heart series




  All Together in One Place

  No Eye Can See


  Mystic Sweet Communion

  A Gathering of Finches

  Love to Water My Soul

  A Sweetness to the Soul

  (Winner of the Wrangler Award

  for Outstanding Western Novel of 1995)



  A Burden Shared

  This book is dedicated to

  my brother, Craig Rutschow:

  a man who chooses to stay within reach

  of his wife, his children, his faith, and his kin.


  The women ofAll Together

  in One Place

  Mazy Bacon, a dairy farmer

  Suzanne Cullver, a former


  Clayton and Sason, her boys

  Tipton Kossuth, a newlywed

  Sister Esther Maeves, a cleaning

  lady and attendant to

  Suzanne; former contractor

  for mail-order brides

  Ruth Martin, a horsewoman and

  auntie to Jason, Ned, and

  Sarah, and mother to Jessie

  Elizabeth Mueller, Mazy s

  mother and a baker

  Lura Schmidtke,

  a businesswoman

  Matthew, her son

  Mariah, her daughter,

  a young horsewoman

  Adora Wilson, a shopkeeper

  Charles and Tipton,

  her son and daughter

  The surviving Celestials:

  Mei-Ling and her daughter

  Naomi and her daughter

  Additional characters

  Chita, housemaid

  to Nehemiah and Tipton

  Angus Flaubert, an actor

  Seth Forrester, a white-collared man

  Gus Grotefend, Shasta City

  hotel owner

  Nehemiah Kossuth, Crescent City

  packer, husband of Tipton

  Burke Manes, a Jacksonville area

  farmer and pastor

  Michael O'Malley, a former

  pit boss and miner

  Joe Pepin, the Schmidtkes' teamster

  Sterling Powder, tutor

  to Clayton and Sason

  Zane Randolph, a.k.a. Wesley


  Ruths husband

  Matthew Schmidtke, a cattleman

  David Taylor, mail carrier

  and Mazy s stepson

  Grace Taylor, David s sister

  Oltipa Taylor, a Wintu Indian

  woman, wife of David

  Ben, her son Estella

  “Esty” Williams, a milliner

  Thou maintainest my lot.

  The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places;

  yea, I have a goodly heritage.


  Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met? C. S.

  Lewis, Christian Reflections

  If you always do what you've always done,

  You'll always get what you've always gotten.

  Context Associates


  Fall 1853

  Whipped-cream clouds danced across a stage of blue before an audience of oak. Shadows softened the suns glare on the water, allowing Ruth Martin to peer beneath the rivers surface. She'd seen that wily trout. Today she'd catch him without getting her feet wet.

  She retied the bent sewing needle at the end of the butchers twine. California morning sun glinted on beads of water dotting the wet string like pearls. “Just one more little nibble and I'll have you,” she said. Firm yet slender as a whip handle, Ruth sat astride her horse. Old miner's pants covered her legs. Jumper, her horse, wiggled his ears, lifted a back leg to scratch at a fly, splashed when he set his hoof down. “Don't lose concentration now, Jumper,” she whispered, more to herself than the horse.

  Certain the needle was firmly attached, she flicked the willow fishing pole and watched as the breeze picked up the string, then set it and the makeshift hook adrift along the riffle. A reddish leaf broke loose from a willow, gentled in the stream following her line to the shaded pool. She eased the hook across the water. Waiting.

  She'd have to head back soon. She still had pack boxes only half filled. Flannels needed steaming and hanging, and the wagon wasn't nearly loaded. Then there was that Joe Pepin to contend with. The wrangler'd said he'd take them north, but he'd been acting scarce of late. Still, Ruth Martin could make it happen on time. She was sure. She just wanted
to bring in this last big trout before she headed back. Astride Jumper, she could do it without getting wet. She smiled.

  Redwing blackbirds chirped in the tall grasses drooping with their weight. Sun warmed her face. Her eyes closed.

  She felt a tug. Sitting straight, she jerked the willow and set the hook. “Gotcha,” she said. Skillfully she lifted the pole up and over the horse's head, changed hands, then back again as the trout twisted and tired in the water before her. He was a big one. When it felt right, she said, “Back, Jumper.” She barely touched the reins and squeezed her knees, easing the big animal back toward the riverbank. “Just a little more,” she said. Then with perfect timing, she slid the trout out of the water and onto the grassy bank. “We did it!” The horse lifted its head up and down as though to agree.

  With one leg raised over his mane, Ruth slid off, still holding the pole. She stunned the fish with the hard end of her whip that usually hung coiled at her hip, then slipped the fish into the canvas bag with the others. She had over a dozen. This one alone weighed as much as a pork roast. A good mornings catch. Plenty for them all at the big affair Elizabeth had planned. She tightened the strap of the bag, then draped it over the horse's neck. “You're a good fishing partner,” she told Jumper, hugging him and inhaling his scent before gripping his mane in her hands and pulling herself up and astride. “The best I've ever had.”

  She pressed her knees and set a fast pace back to Poverty Flat. Riding always invigorated, took away any agitation or worry. It was one of the few luxuries she permitted herself, a woman with responsibilities. Today, with so much yet undone, she needed that burst of power.

  A flock of geese lifted from the Sacramento as they raced by. She ducked beneath the oaks and through the pines embracing the meadow known as Poverty Flat and home—but not for much longer. She squinted.

  Matthew Schmidtke and the children were pushing something on a cart. Coopered barrels. They were all laughing. Surely they hadn't already gotten all their chores completed. She didn't see any blankets on the line, and no one stood near the butter churn. What had they been doing? She squeezed her knees, and Jumper sped forward.

  “Hey,” Matthew said as she approached. “Brought breakfast, I see.”

  “Supper,” she said. “Have you children finished what I asked you to do?”

  “We're helping Matthew,” Ruth's nephew Jason told her. His cowlick stuck straight up in the back, and he absently pressed his fingers against it as he talked.

  “And it's a surprise,” Jessie, her five-year-old daughter, said. “For you.

  “Don't tell her,” Sarah warned, acting older than her eight years.

  “I won't,” Jessie answered.

  “I don't like surprises much,” Ruth said. She removed her floppy felt hat and wiped her forehead with her forearm. Her eyes caught Jessie's troubled look, and she softened. “I'm sure this one will be fine. We just have a lot to do.”

  “You'll like this one.” Matthew smiled at her.

  “We have to be out of here this week,” Ruth said, squaring her shoulders.

  “Maybe some of us wish you weren't in such a hurry,” he said, his blue eyes never leaving hers.

  “Wait'll you see it,” Ned said. Her younger nephew pulled at his stockings tucking them up to his knickers. He stood with his hands at his hips just the way Matthew did. Neither wore a hat this morning. “It's gonna be real chirk.”

  “Let's let her tend to her business while we take care of those fish, boys. Then we can finish up here.” Matthew sniffed the air. “Is that you or the fish?” he teased. The children giggled. “Must be the fish. You'll like our surprise for sure, if it isn't.”

  Ruth grunted, never quite sure how to take his teasing. She didn't have much practice with friendships with men. Mostly they were obstacles to her finding the independence and peace of mind she sought. Matthew approached the horse, patted Jumpers neck, then lifted the canvas bag offish. A breeze brushed at the strip of white hair that faded into black above Matthews eye. He winked, then headed toward the porch. “Lets get these cleaned, boys,” he said. “Then it's back to hard labor and Ruth's surprise.”

  “Surprises leave me cold,” Ruth said as she reined the horse toward the barn.

  “This onell warm you to your toes,” Matthew called after her. The children's laughter only added to her irritation.

  Mazy Bacon drove the milk wagon from Poverty Flat into Shasta City. It was morning, and by midafternoon she'd be riding back again to milk her cows and tend to the calves she kept at Ruth's place. She felt tired. Probably from all the people out there right now. The Schmidtkes bustled about, all three of them. And of course, Ruth and her four until they headed north. Pack strings showed up and pitched tents before heading into Shasta. Even wagon trains found the wide flat inviting, giving people a place to catch their breath before dispersing to places north and south and farther west, seeking new lives, drifting like leaves to the fall winds.

  Mazy had stayed at Ruth's when her cows were calving. But then Matthew Schmidtke and the wrangler Joe Pepin arrived, bringing the rest of Ruth's mares and yearlings and the Schmidtkes' Durham cows. And they brought Marvel, the Ayrshire bull that belonged to Mazy. Or did until she'd discovered that bovine was really owned by her dead husband's brother living in Sacramento. Another of her husband's betrayals uncovered. She'd have to get the bull to her brother-in-law before long. Ruth had even asked that Mazy move the bull out now. Find a pen for him in town.

  “He could injure the mares or colts,” Ruth said. “I know you wouldn't want that to happen.”

  Marvel's long horns were worthy of respect. Mazy knew that firsthand. But Ruth would be gone in a day or two, and then the bull would have free range with Mazys cows and the Schmidtkes', too, if they wanted. After they were bred, she'd take the cow brute south. Until then the pen of split rails seemed sturdy enough to hold him. Mazy had said as much to Ruth. Ruth had set her jaw, then stalked off.

  Mazy pulled up the milk cart, tied the mule to the hitching rail, then dropped off the tins of milk at Washington's Market in Shasta City. “We'll take all you can give us,” the proprietor told her. “Cheese be coming one of these days?”

  “I'm just doing milk and butter for now,” Mazy said. She wiped her hands on her apron, lifted another tin.

  “Shasta's a growing city,” Washington reminded her, taking the milk from her hands. “We need your busy cows to supplement the food shipped in from Oregon. How else we going to feed the hordes of miners spackling this country like flies on tent canvas?”

  Mazy smiled. “I'm doing my best.”

  Mazy finished her delivery, taking some tins to the St. Charles Hotel, another to a new boardinghouse, which had sprung up almost overnight. She accepted the final payment for the day, wrote down new orders, and promised to bring more butter tomorrow. She stuffed the coins into a bag kept beneath her seat and caught a scent of her own perspiration. The work was hard but invigorating. She had a strong back and firm hands. “Formed of sturdy stock” her husband had always said. She needed to be sturdy to survive as a widow in this West. Fragrant sturdy stock, she thought, as she unhitched the mule from the rail. A bath would feel good.

  Back at her mother's small room above the bakery, Mazy dabbed at her upper body with water from the flowered washbowl with a rough huck towel, her eyes glancing at the quilt pieces. Ruth had drawn the design Suzanne had described, and Mazy had promised to sew it for their blind friend. Each of the women had made a block to symbolize their experiences together coming across from the States to California last year. Mazy hadn t even decided what her own block would say, but she liked the idea of making a story out of the pieces, making it look like the pages of a book.

  A dream she'd had the night before came to her mind. Usually her dreams were like hiccups, disrupting without rhythm. This one had actually been a story. It had a beginning, middle, and end. Even color. Her bath completed, she dried, then treated herself with a cup of spring water. She sat to stitch, rem
embering the dreams sequence.

  She was in a schoolhouse, taking lessons. The teacher was her old pastor. He wore his long frock coat and on his feet the mud-stained boots of a farmer. Someone had a photo book they shared, and across the room, people carrying carpetbags on their arms bought tickets to take a stage somewhere. Mazy knew she belonged at that schoolhouse, was there to learn something. Yet she was suddenly striding out, kicking up the hem of her dress, the fringe of her shawl tickling her bare arms as she walked, her shoulders square and sure. She felt happy knowing where she was headed, the wind blowing her auburn hair. She met a wagon loaded with candle tins and wooden buckets and trunks like those the women had brought across the trail. A woman stood from the still-moving seat. She remembered her now; it was an acquaintance from back in Wisconsin, Kay Krall! Kay pulled the red-seated Studebaker wagon to a stop. She spoke to Mazy, “Are you in service?”

  Mazy had answered with great joy, “Yes! I am!”

  The woman had smiled and moved on, saying as she waved goodbye, “That's good. Because it's my job to make sure that everyone is in service.”