Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 2
- Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 1
An intro to a historical romance. Janie tries to seduce a cowboy in order to get out of town.
Chapter 1 Continued...
Matthew stood at the window in his room. Had he been pacing the room for hours? He did not know. Back and forth. A walk around the room. Sit on the bed. Run his fingers through his hair while he rested his elbows on his knees. Sigh, then go stare out the window. That had been his routine ever since that girl left his room, but he had lost track of time. The only thing he knew for certain at this point was that the sun was up, moving higher into the sky the longer he paced, and too much was on his mind to sit still.
The most recent thing to crowd his mind was that mystery woman. Who was she and why had she been in his room? She had some nerve. The last thing he needed was a prostitute, although he had not seen any lingering around the Drover's Cottage. So then where had she come from and why did he instinctively feel like it was out of character for her? Memories of her played through his mind for at least the hundredth time.
She was gorgeous, no question about it. Quite possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was exotic and he wondered if she might be part Hispanic or Indian until he recalled her deep brown hair, not black. If he ran his fingers through those beckoning waves, would they feel like silk? No, of course not. Why was he even thinking like that? He should be ashamed of himself. Besides, the last thing he needed was to be thinking about her. For any reason.
Matthew made his way over to the desk, opening the single drawer so that his fingers could trace the outline of the letter he received upon arrival. There was no need to pull it out of the drawer; he knew what it said by heart.
Mr Cooper: We regret to inform you that a fire destroyed the home of your parents and some property. Unfortunately, they did not make it out alive. We have Isabella and Jason in our care. Please accept our sincere condolences and know your siblings are safe until your return. Kenneth and Jacqueline Sutter.
The Sutters were his neighbors growing up, but most of the family moved shortly after the Civil War ended. Reconstruction was difficult because Texas was nearly bankrupt. Kenneth's family decided to follow the cattle and move north in search of a new start, but Kenneth and his new bride decided to stay and make a life for themselves where they already had some roots.
Matthew hated the fact Kenneth had been there for the death of his parents when he had not been. Everything was a competition with that man. It always had been, ever since his family moved to the county and bought ranch land adjacent the Cooper's. The Sutter's, Kenneth in particular, always had to have the best in everything: the best house, the best clothes, the best horses, the best crops, the best cattle. The list went on. The best girl.
Matthew grimaced at the thought. Kenneth gloated for months about stealing Jacqueline's heart while Matthew was fighting for the rights of his state with the Confederate army. How long would he rub it in his face that he had to care for Matthew's young siblings in his absence? Now Kenneth had his girl and his family. To hear Kenneth tell it, the entire county probably thought Matthew was an irresponsible son who abandoned his family and shirked his responsibilities to them when he left.
Maybe that was exactly what he had done. He could not stand to see Jacqueline doing so well with someone else, especially Kenneth Sutter. Kenneth should have been at war with him. Matthew did not even want to be there. He, along with many other Texans, did not support the secession. It was a war that put family against family and he had to leave his own in order to support the majority of his state. To him, the manly thing to do would have been to support the Union his ancestors created. Instead, he fought alongside friends he knew in order to protect them. He got shot for it, too. But he was lucky enough to be sheltered in a local doctor's office until he was well enough to return to duty. Kenneth got injured and went home because of his injuries, seizing the opportunity to win over the heart of the best woman in all of Texas. His best friend. His fiancee.
Matthew thought the hole in his heart would never heal, especially if he stayed there. He left home in search of a new life for himself with the blessing of his family. What he found was a plethora of cattle. There were ranchers who needed to get their beef to market because now that the war was over, the way to profit was to send the cattle north. So Matthew went north as well, stopping in a town called Red River Station, where he briefly became the sheriff for a couple of years.
The Drover's Cottage
Matthew enjoyed the job of sheriff for the most part, earning himself a well-respected reputation in law enforcement that stretched so far and wide the Texas Rangers tried to recruit him twice. But Matthew attributed it all to luck. Red River Station was near a crossing point on the Chisholm Trail. There was a natural bend in the Red River there, allowing for generally calmer waters and better conditions for crossing with a herd. It was here that Matthew stopped for a night that changed his life. The night he won the job of sheriff in a poker game.
Beginner's luck at its finest, but Matthew owned up to the job. He kept the town and its citizens as safe as he could, making new friends and connections along the way. And in the process, he began to heal his broken heart. The hole that Jacqueline left remained, but the jagged edges were slowly wearing down. Yet try as he may, he could not seem to find interest in another woman, though plenty of young women tried to get his attention.
After a couple of years in law enforcement, Matthew once again decided it was time to move on. There was a restlessness in him that could not be quenched. So he traded his badge for work as a trail boss. This was Matthew's third time to make the trip up the trail Jesse Chisholm blazed for so many others.
The most dangerous part of the trail was crossing the Indian Territory between Texas and Kansas. The moment the Red River was crossed Texas ended. The weather, though, was a constant threat no matter where they were due to its unpredictable nature. Stampedes caused by lightning were probably a bigger threat than Indian attacks. The trips were grueling, but a good trail boss could make between $100 and $125 per drive. Matthew did not do it for the money, though. He did it for the adventures, and he was good at it.
He did not allow his workers to carry guns with them because it was safer not to since it was considered common decency not to shoot an unarmed man. Plus, they could not navigate their horses enough to do their jobs properly if they had to worry about rifles. Matthew, however, did keep a gun close to him at all times just in case. Usually, he kept it in the chuck wagon with the cook until they made camp.
As trail boss, it was part of his job to scout for the best place to make camp for the night, so he usually rode about three miles ahead of the group to keep an eye out for danger and a place to sleep after they went about twelve miles or so. But even after they made camp, the men were not allowed to completely let loose. Alcohol was also banned on his drives. Rowdy men could cause a stampede and did not have heightened senses needed for their own safety. They all complied with the rules because they wanted their jobs, but they celebrated payday with women and booze once they reached Abilene. They were no longer his responsibility there, though.
While they celebrated in town, Matthew preferred to spend his days and nights both unwinding at the Drover's Cottage. He liked to linger for a few days before heading back to Texas. Covering more ground in a day, he could accomplish the trip back in a matter of weeks instead of months. It became his favorite part of the trip. He loved the sense of freedom, solitude, and independence. There was also something primal about experiencing nature as God first created it.
He should be preparing for that trip home now. There was a sense of urgency this time, though, and it would not be relaxing. All the urgency in the world could not spur him into action and he procrastinated against his better judgement. No, he knew why. Who was he to care for young children? That was one responsibility he did not want to accept only to fail. He also did not want to face his past just yet.
Matthew knew that his brother and sister needed him, but they were safe, he reasoned. Jacqueline once said she loved them like her own siblings. Surely, she still cared. She was the closest thing they had to a mother right now. They needed that. He had not even cried over losing her nor had he had cried over losing his parents. He grieved in his own way and his own time. How could he help his siblings? He could not. Some things a woman was just better at doing.
Matthew shoved the drawer closed. He knew he needed to send a letter or a telegram to the Sutters informing them of his plans, but he was not yet ready. He made his way back over to the window as if the light of day could somehow clear his muddled mind, though it had not thus far. He stared at the vast expanse of McCoy's property. So large yet so small compared to the wilderness of the Indian Territory. He was just about to turn away for another trip around the room when the figure of a woman caught his eye.
There she was - the woman who was in his room early this morning! If she was a prostitute, she sure did not look like one now. Her hair still hung down, but it was tied back with a ribbon. Her dress was simple, but not provocative. She reminded him of the maids around here. Wait, he recognized her now. She did work here. She had probably cleaned his room and that must be how she knew where his room was. Or was he just a random target for money? Who was she? He needed answers and he wanted them now.
He spun around, grabbed his hat off the desk, and went out his door with a purpose. When Matthew was a sheriff he developed a habit of never going anywhere without his hat. As far as he was concerned, there were only three places not to wear his hat: the privacy of his own home (or in this case room), a funeral, and church. He felt like a hat added to a man's stature and exuded confidence as well as leadership. His only problem now was that he was not going to a formal interrogation and he did not know exactly what his purpose was yet.
The realization did not deter him, though. He stalked right out the lobby door headed in the direction he last saw her. Just as he was beginning to think maybe he had imagined seeing her, he spotted her speaking to another hotel guest. He believed the guest and her husband were neighbors on his floor, but he could not recall her name. The women stopped chatting as they noticed his approach so he tipped his hat at them, not missing the sudden flushed cheeks of his mystery woman.
"Good morning to you, Mr. Cooper," cooed the neighbor's wife. "Have you met Janie?"
Matthew watched Janie closely for a moment. She squirmed under his gaze and blushed again. She probably thought he was picturing her naked, he realized, and that was enough to make him play dumb for now. She was the one who behaved immorally and he was the one feeling guilty. How absurd was that? It made no sense to be sensitive to her obvious shame now. But now that he thought about it, he sensed the shame when she was in his room. It made refusing her easier.
"No," Matthew said, "I don't believe we have been introduced."
Oblivious to the silent communication going on between Janie and Matthew with their eyes, his neighbor chatted a few seconds about something he was certain neither he nor Janie heard. She was a bit flighty, he observed. The polite thing would be to call her by name in return, but he could not for the life of him recall it.
"Oh my, the introduction," she finally said. "Mr Cooper, I would like you to meet Janie McEntire. Janie, this is Matthew Cooper. Mr Cooper is an esteemed trail boss. And did you know he used to be a sheriff?"
Jamie's eyes widened, but she quickly recovered. "No, Sara. I had no idea."
Sara Stewart, that was her name. Wife of John Stewart, some bigwig with the railroad. The couple was considering setting up permanent residence here and apparently Mrs. Stewart wasted know time finding her way into the gossip circle around town.
"Thank you, Miss McEntire," Matthew said, realizing his mistake too late. He cleared his throat. "I mean, nice to meet you, ma'am."
Just what did he think he was doing? He did not know this woman and she already had a permanent spot in his mind, unlike the Stewarts. That irritated him something fierce. She was mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful, and already a royal pain in his head. He had only just met her, too - formally, at least. How could she have such a hold on him? He should focus on resisting the lure of those emerald eyes. Were they emerald? Impossible for eyes to be that green, but her's surely were this morning when she pouted. Suddenly he had to get away.
"Excuse me, ladies," he said, heading toward the stables.
Historical Tidbits: Rails and Trails
The railroad company put a switch on the tracks for McCoy to load cattle that were then sent up north where McCoy knew the Chicago market well. He actively encouraged ranchers to drive their cattle north to him. According to reports, an estimated 440,200 heads of cattle were shipped out of Abilene between 1967 and 1871. As the railroads moved south and west so did the cattle trails. Until eventually they became obsolete. But not before Abilene earned a classic wild west reputation.
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© 2017 Shannon Henry