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Burning Kansas: Chapter 4
"So, tell me about Jacob. What kind of young man is he?"
For most of lunch, they'd kept to small talk, with Creighton complimenting Caroline on her cooking and the tidy, feminine cabin. It was nice, but he knew it was time to get back to the subject at hand. He'd been waiting for a question like this one. Creighton wiped his mouth and met her eyes, looking for anger or sarcasm. Seeing nothing but interest and concern, he spoke.
"He's a good boy. Always has been. The type you'd have been proud to have court Emma. I will say that he's not much of a farmer, but give him some tools and he can fix anything from a worn harness to a busted wagon wheel. When he was fourteen, he made his mother a rocking chair."
"What does his mother say about this? She must be worried." Caroline split the last of the lemonade between the two glasses.
"Fever, two years ago. Lucinda was one of those peach-and-linen Boston types. She never took to life in Missouri. Her health was always frail. I was gone on some fool mission when it happened. Luckily, my folks were there to take care of things and they took in Jacob."
The silence hung in the air between them. Creighton couldn't help but compare his lunch partner to his dead wife. Framed by her fiery hair, Caroline's fair skin glowed with health and strength. In her green skirt, her walk reminded him of wind through the prairie grass. It was the difference between a hothouse orchid and prairie sunflowers.
"I'm very sorry to hear that. These have been sorrowful years. I have to ask another question about Jacob."
Her soft voice brought him back, and he answered, "Go on ahead. I'll answer as best I can."
Caroline didn't speak immediately. Instead she went to a small pie safe cunningly set into the wall and brought out a metal plate. She dished out two slices and put one in front of Creighton.
"Ma'am, I don't know what to say. I'm not sure how long it's been since I've had a piece of real pie."
"Blackberries grow wild on a hill just a bit from here. I hope you enjoy it."
He answered her by cutting out a bite nearly too big for his fork.
She smiled and spoke, "Creighton, how does Jacob feel about the troubles? Where does he stand on the issue of slavery?"
Creighton swallowed his pie, although her question made it feel like a berry was sticking in his throat.
"We don't talk much about it, but, he doesn't have much respect for what I've been doing. He also blames me for his mother. No one in our family owns slaves, nor any of our neighbors. But, I could see Jacob having abolitionist sympathies. May I ask where you're going with this?"
Caroline didn't say anything as she scraped their plates into an old pan and put it on the floor for King.
"Emma is a little firebrand. She worshipped her father. When we fought, which has been more and more lately, she said she wanted to join the movement. I think this may be my fault. I told her we weren't spending another winter here. I was making plans for us to move in with my mother in Philadelphia. I already have a buyer for the farm."
Her voice broke at the last line, but she kept her composure.
"No more fault than mine. I couldn't even tell you what's in my son's heart, that's how little I know him. Caroline, we're on your side of the border. Where do you think they've gone?"
"We need to go into town before I can confirm it, but I think they've gone to Lawrence."
Creighton fought to keep his face calm. He stood up and pushed in his chair.
"I thank you for your hospitality, but I have to get on the road. No offense to your daughter, but I can ride a lot faster than Jacob even when he doesn't have a girl with him."
"Offense taken." She sounded more like the woman he'd met on the porch earlier. King's low growl was a warning in his ears. Caroline walked over to Creighton and stood closer than most would consider polite. Even though he was a good two inches past six feet, she only had to tilt her head slightly to meet his eyes.
"Mr. Blaylock, I think you'll find this woman is your equal on horseback. If you go alone, I will follow you. Plus, you'd never find them. The folks in Lawrence don't cotton to the likes of you." With that, she grabbed the tip of his long beard and yanked it hard enough to make his chin bob.
He glared into her blue-green eyes and saw nothing but steely resolve.
"Mrs. Cassett, I've killed men for less than that."
"Go ahead. King will never let you through that door and the kids will be free. Maybe that's for the best."
Creighton knew he was beat and stepped back. The heat he was feeling wasn't just his anger.
"So, what do we do now," he said.
"If you'll go saddle the horses, I'll get ready to go into town. If I confirm my suspicions, I'll tell you everything. Yes, they have a big lead, but they'll stay on the road. We'll catch up to them."
Creighton raised a brow in question.
"I wasn't married to Michael Cassett all these years and not learn a thing or two. I know a shortcut. That's all I'll say right now."
To his surprise, she pulled out a plain muslin tablecloth, flipped it open, and covered their dirty dishes in a graceful swoop.
"My mother would be appalled, but it's the maid's day off. Mr. Blaylock, will you saddle my horse?"
His anger melted under the warmth of her smile.
Bowing like a courtier, he said, "M'lady, it would be a pleasure."
To be continued . . .