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Laurie Matheison felt conflicting emotions as the train rocked along down the tracks. She was scared half to death at the prospect of what would soon happen to her, but her heart soared with happiness at what she was experiencing.
Winter had finally given up its grip on the land, and now things were growing everywhere. Laurie had seen many things on this trip that amazed and amused her. She was fifteen. She'd never been more than ten miles from home until she boarded this train. She was on the verge of becoming a woman, her body having preceded her mind a bit. And she was suddenly ... an orphan.
There had been a letter in what was left of her parent's things, from an Uncle she'd never met, or at least couldn't remember. She was mentioned in the letter, asking how the beautiful little girl was. The rest of the letter was about how much he missed his sister. There were spots on the letter that looked suspiciously like dried tears had caused them, and the letter had been unfolded and folded many times, as though it was brought out to read frequently.
The town fathers - the town mothers in all reality - had decided she should be sent to the return address on that letter. That decision hadn't been made out of charity, though. For Laurie was beautiful, with full breasts, a narrow waist, and swelling hips that promised easy delivery of many children.
In the little western town of Silver Center, she was arguably the most beautiful woman in town. The only other prospect for a homeless waif was Miss Kitty's, where several young women lived and worked, seeing to the needs of the rough miners and cowboys ... and sometimes the husbands in the town. Officially, these girls served drinks to the men. But there were rooms upstairs, and they were visited with enough frequency that Miss Kitty was richer than most of the mine owners in the area.
The city mothers knew that if Laurie ended up there, they'd never get any attention from their husbands until she was worn out and old ... like them.
So she was on her way to live with a man she'd never met, her only known family, traveling by herself in a world that often preyed on beautiful young women. By western standards she was of marriageable age and ripe for the plucking. Some of those town mothers assumed she'd never make it a hundred miles before being snatched up and put to work on her back. As long as it wasn't where their men could find her ... fine.
Being on the train all by itself was an education. As the locomotive chuffed it's way east she'd seen the few remaining buffalo herds, more towns than she thought there were in the whole world, more people that she could imagine, and miles and miles and miles of prairie. And she still had a thousand miles to go.
Those thousand miles is another story, several, in fact, but those are stories for another time. For our purposes today, it is only necessary that you know she arrived on the rocky coasts of New England, in County Rochester, with her virginity intact, hunger gnawing at her spine, and penniless.
Now all she had to do was find Mr. Martin Trumble, her dead mother's brother, at "Middleton Tower", whatever that was. She put one slim hand on her empty stomach, over the fabric of the last dress she owned. Her luggage had been stolen in Ohio.
She went to the Porter's office and asked for her Uncle by name, to no avail. At the mention of Middleton Tower the gruff man pointed south. "Down the coast. Twenty miles mebbe." His speech sounded odd, almost foreign. He turned back to his work.
Laurie felt faint as she went back out on the porch of the depot. If she didn't get something to eat soon she'd crumple. But her money was gone too, the little they'd given her. She walked through town until she heard the noise and smelled the odor of a saloon. Knowing she couldn't go in the front, she went to the back door and waited until a fat woman in an apron came to the door to throw out a pot of dirty ... something.
"Please Miss ... I can wash dishes. I've had nothing to eat for two days."
It was dark by the time they let her go, but her stomach was full.
Having no place to stay, she walked in the dark. She knew South from looking at the stars. She needed sleep, but it was still spring, and cold at night. If she stopped too long she knew she could get sick.
She couldn't afford to get sick.
She'd find a place to hide and sleep when the sun was up. After what seemed hours, she topped a hill and saw an amazing thing. Far off in the distance, clear to the horizon, there was a ... dot ... of light. And from that pinprick there shot out a thick ray that moved.
She had seen shooting stars, but this was static, sitting there on the horizon as the beam moved around that bright dot.
At first she thought it just moved back and forth. Like a huge eye that was looking for something. It looked to her left and then her right and then the dot disappeared. But she could see the ray, pointing away from her, reflected off of low clouds. And then the dot reappeared and it swept across her field of vision again. She imagined what it would be like to be closer to that light. If she could see it so far away it must be bright as the sun, though, of course smaller. Its light would wash across her, making all color disappear. Her eyes would have to be closed tightly or she'd be blinded. She closed them now, wishing she could feel the wash of that light. Maybe it would carry her away to some magical kingdom somewhere.
A bird made a sound in the night and she opened her eyes. She shivered and looked at that distant pin prick of light again.
She realized that the light was revolving in a circle. In the dim recesses of a tired mind she remembered a story her mother had told her, about Pirates who lured their victims onto the rocks of the sea shore by shining a big light out to sea. She shuddered.
Pirates. That was all she needed.
She trudged onward.
She smelled the smoke first, and went on guard. Using skills she didn't know she had, she tracked the smell to its source and stood within twelve feet of the campfire without the man lying beside it ever knowing she was there. She would have moved off without him ever knowing it too, had not her stiff dress caught on a branch that bent and snapped before she could unsnag it. The man was up instantly, a flash of silver in his hand.
"Who's there?" he yelled.
Laurie held her breath, hoping he'd lie back down and she could steal away.
"I've got a pistol! Come into the light where I can see you!"
Laurie sighed. It wasn't a man at all. It was just a boy. He was about her age. In the old west, "Man" meant a male three to four years your senior, if you were female. Males your own age were 'boys'. She stepped out of the woods and into the circle of light thrown by the campfire. "It's just me" she said. He was staring at her and she realized his hand was shaking. He looked scared!
"Who's with you?" he said, looking around the dark circle outside the light. "I have a pistol!" he shouted again.
"Nobody. Calm down" she said. "I'm alone. I won't hurt you. I can't hurt you."
It took her a while to convince him there wasn't someone else out there. Women just didn't travel alone in those days.
Finally he invited her to the fire, and she began to warm herself. It was wonderful.
At first there was only uncomfortable silence. Then he asked her where her horse was.
"I don't have a horse," she said.
"Don't you have saddle bags? Or a valise? Or even a sack?" He was clearly curious as to why she had turned up in the middle of nowhere, carrying nothing.
"I was on a train. I got off at a little town to get a breath of fresh air and stretch and when I got back on the train my suitcase was gone. I tried to get the porter to hold the train so I could call for the Sheriff, but he wouldn't hear of it."
Then he sheepishly had to admit that he had none of those things either. He knew how to ride, but had no horse or gear. He lived, it seemed, from hand to mouth, making his way in the world drifting from one place to another.
That gave them something to talk about. So they talked and she eventually told him some more of what had happened and that she was being sent to her Uncle. "Who's your Uncle?" he asked casually.
"I've never met him. His name is Martin Trumble," she said.
The boy stared. "I know that man," he said. His voice sounded scared again. "He's the lighthouse keeper down at Middleton Bay."
Laurie felt the first excitement she'd experienced in days. "Can you take me there? How far is it? What's he like?" She had a hundred questions.
"Hold on there," he said. "I can take you there, that's no problem. But I don't think you want to go. From what I hear he's a bad man. He killed two men with just his hands. I heard the story from a man who saw it. These two men were drunk and shooting their pistols in the air. He told them to stop and they threatened him. He killed one just by hitting him with his fist. The other man shot him in the leg. He broke that man's back. He's big. I seen him once. He looks mean to me. He's over six feet and probably weighs 240 pounds. He's got a big bushy black beard. When I seen him he was lifting barrels of oil for that big lantern onto his wagon like they didn't weigh nothin'. I don't think you want to be with him."
Laurie stared. She knew about violence, had seen plenty out west, but this boy's emotion at describing the events shocked her. Her heart sank at the thought of having to live with a brute like he was describing.
"I have no place else to go," she moaned. "And I won't go to the brothels," she said firmly.
She knew about sex. Back on the plains there had been no privacy and no shame. When her parents wanted to make love they just did so, and if little Laurie was watching ... well someday she'd need to know how to do these things. So Laurie had seen her father's hard penis many times and she had seen what he did with it. Her mother had obviously loved what he was doing, but Laurie didn't want strange men doing those things to her. She'd had dreams about meeting a young man who would do those things to her some day. That dream was far away now. Right now, she needed a place to stay, and something to eat until she could improve her situation.
"I must at least see him. Tell him his sister is dead. Will you take me there?" Her voice quavered. She didn't know what she'd do if he turned her down.
But he nodded and she relaxed. They talked a little while more and then curled up by the fire to sleep.
The next day she got to see the "pistol" he had. It was a two barrel derringer hideaway gun. He'd found it on a dead gambler in an alley and stolen it from the corpse. When Laurie gasped in horror at the idea of robbing a dead body, the boy simply said, "He sure didn't have any more use for it".
She studied him as they walked. He was handsome, or would be if he was cleaned up. She blushed as she realized what she was thinking. She was a mess herself, her hair loose and flying, her dress filthy, her hands and arms smudged with dirt.
But this boy treated her respectfully. His speech was coarse, but she was used to that. Her parents had taught her to read and write, so she knew more of America than many of its other citizens. Most young people her age worked, or were married. She couldn't tell with him, but he seemed to have wandered for some time.
"Are you ever going to tell me your name?" she asked. Then she blushed. It was forward to ask such things.
They walked silently for a while longer before he answered. "Francis," he said softly. "but I hate that name. I go by Kit ... you know, like Kit Carson?.
Laurie had no idea who Kit Carson was, but she didn't want him to know that. "Well, Kit it is then" she said brightly. "And what do you do for a living Kit?" she asked.
He shot her a guarded look and she smiled. "Well, since I was forward enough to pry I thought I might as well keep on at it," she said. "Besides, it's a way to pass the time. You tell me your story and I'll tell you mine."
He walked on beside her. "My pappy was shot to death in the war when I was a baby. My Momma washed clothes for a long time to get by, but then she met a man who said he'd take her in, but he didn't want a snot-nosed boy hanging around. That was three years ago. I been on my own since then. I do work for folks. I wanted to go out west, but I don't have any skill to barter with to get on a wagon train. That's pretty much it. I guess I get by OK."
Then she told him about what had happened to her. He listened with wide eyes as she described all the things she had seen and been through.
"No lady should have to go through all that," he said. "Especially a lady as pretty as you." She looked at him quickly, suddenly afraid he might act like other men had, undressing her with their eyes and making ... suggestions.
But he was looking straight ahead.
It took them two days to walk to the lighthouse. The second night the light from the lighthouse swept across their camp site regularly. The second morning they woke up, having rolled together. Both were embarrassed by the closeness, but both were able to shrug it off as they continued their trek.
He took her straight through the small town. "Folks around here aren't too friendly to strangers," was his only comment as they avoided people in the town. Then he cut away from the main road and took her between buildings, along smaller tracks, until they came to a narrow road flanked by large rough rock and boulders. She could smell the sea more strongly now and it made her nose twitch. She could hear it too, or what she assumed was a lot of water, splashing. The sound came from everywhere except behind her.
The lighthouse was up ahead. She craned her neck. She'd never seen anything that tall. The road wound around and around, going between huge chunks of gray rock. Obviously, the only effort made during the road's construction, was to find a way between two rocks, and then find a way between the next two rocks.
Finally they arrived at the base of the tower. Laurie stared at it, fascinated by the structure. The base looked like it was rising out of the rock, like it had been forced up by some unimaginable convulsion in the earth. As she got closer she could see that natural stone had been piled, cemented together by mortar to form a flat platform. On top of that was a squat, square building that looked like a fortress she had read about in a book back home. It consisted of heavy wooden beams, stood on end about ten feet apart. Between them were more natural rock and mortar with small narrow windows cut into them. These windows were filled with thick leaded glass, the kind that distorted everything one looked at through it.
The front door was twelve feet off the ground, and was a massive thing, four feet wide and eight feet tall, made of dark wood strapped by iron held on by dark thumb-thick rivets. Huge stone stairs led to the door. These stairs were two feet deep and also made out of native stone. The roof of the house had two peaks, with what looked like a bridge between them and she could see doors cut into the roof at the ends of this bridge. There was a railed walkway all the way around the outside of the roof. Finally, out of the center of this medieval looking place, there rose the tower. It was made of smooth brick that had been painted pure white, and there was a ten foot wide band of bright red paint every ten feet or so. The top glistened in the morning sun.
There was a sign on the front door that said, "Go Away".
They stood there, not knowing what to do. Finally she approached the big door and tried to bang on it with her hand. There was a dull thump and she pulled her hand back, rubbing it. Kit walked all the way around the building, but found only one other entrance, a small door that was set into the thick walls that gave access to a big barn behind the squat light house base. That door, too, was thick and iron-bound, with no way to alert someone inside to one's presence there.
Finally, together with Laurie again, he took a rock and beat on the front door with it. There was a dull booming from his efforts.
Finally they heard a thump and the door swung open. Behind it was a giant of a man, who looked like Kit had described him, except that he was, perhaps, even more fearsome looking. He stood, staring at them, saying nothing, then leaned around the door and stared at the sign, then back at them. The unspoken message was clear.
Laurie, however, was tired of travelling, and scared and just didn't care. "I'm looking for Mr. Martin Trumble".
"Why?" came a growl from the big bushy black beard.
Laurie screwed up her courage. "Because, sir, he is my Uncle, whom I have been sent to live with, upon the death of both of my parents. If you are my Uncle, please say so. If you are not, please lead me to him." Her voice was firm and strong. Her knees threatened to crumble to dust at any second.
The giant's eyes raked up and down her form. She saw appreciation in his eyes, but not the raw lust that many men revealed when they looked at her. "I have a niece. I have not seen her in a decade. What is your name, child?" he said.
She bristled. She had come a long way, under extremely trying conditions, and her welcome was not what she had hoped, and needed, to say it plainly.
"First, I am no child! Second, this is no fit welcome for any tired traveler. Third it is simple politeness to introduce one's self." She stared at him defiantly.'
"As, I might point out, you have failed to do yourself," said the huge man. "Surely my niece would know her own name." He didn't give her time to respond. "Nor have you identified your companion, who I recognize as a lay-about who is reputed to be a thief as well as a ne'r-do-well."
Laurie blushed pink. "Oh I'm so sorry, I'm Laurie Matheison, daughter of Charles and ..."
He cut her off. "Ruby, my sister, who, at my last contact, was alive and doing well."
Laurie straightened her back. "Indians" she said. "My parents hid me in the root cellar under some sacks of turnips; else I would have been killed or carried away. There were too many of them to defend against. After ... a long time ... I came out. I saw their bodies, and rode to town for help. The men would have sent me to the town brothel. The women forbade that and sent me here so I would not have to suffer that fate."
He looked at her up and down again. "I suspect it was for other reasons than charity that the women forbade your entry into that place." His glance flickered to Kit. It was plain he was waiting for more information.
"This is Kit. He found me in the wilderness, and saved me from starving and freezing to death after I got off the train. My money was gone and my luggage stolen. He also led me here."
"And the price for his help?"
"Why nothing." She blinked.
"He has taken nothing from you? Demanded nothing of you?" he said as he looked pointedly at her breasts.
Laurie's face got red, but not from shame or embarrassment. "He was a perfect gentleman since I met him two days ago. I had to spend two nights at his fire. He never asked for as much as a glimpse of my ankle."
The giant laughed loudly, and both teens jumped back. "Well! Niece Laurie, I mourn the passing of my sister, whom I loved dearly and as often as possible, but I believe I like you. You were a gorgeous child when last I saw you."
His eyes raked over her form again, and this time it was a frankly sexual examination. "And you are a gorgeous ch ... er woman now. It is my most fervent hope that I come to love you as I did my sister when we were young." He turned to Kit, who took another step back. "And you. Do you seek work? Or are you truly a scoundrel as the town folk say?"
Kit was confused. Everything he'd heard about this man was that he was mean, spiteful, dangerous and unkind. But all he'd been so far was careful, if a little stand-offish. And he did need a job of some kind sooner or later.
"What kind of work are you offerin' mister?"
The man looked him up and down now. "Well, I suppose that is something we could talk about over lunch, unless the two of you are stuffed and would rather begin work immediately." He opened the door and stood back.
Laurie looked at Kit. He shrugged his shoulders. They looked at each other an instant longer ... and went in.
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