You'll never forget the moment you first laid eyes on her. It was a cold, windy night in the state of Ambarino and the gang had just set up camp at an old, abandoned sight in Colter. You heard Lenny's voice calling out to everyone.
"Hey everyone, Dutch is back!" he said.
At the call, you quickly threw open the door to your run-down cabin and trudged through the snow to meet Dutch, Micah, and Arthur who had returned from a supply raid. You squinted through the storm to see if they'd brought back any blankets or clothing to help shelter from the cold, but as they rode in, you noticed that they didn't just come back with the usual food and ammo. A woman you had never seen before sat on the back of Dutch's horse, holding a thick, oversized jacket around herself that failed to hide the shivering of her body. You recognized the specific quiver- one of not just the cold, but adrenaline as well.
As your fellow gang mates gathered outside to welcome back the group, you could see the woman's face in the glow of lantern light. She wore a shocked and fearful expression on her sun-damaged face, damp tears still fresh on her freckled cheeks from whatever trauma she had recently experienced. You could also make out a faint scar above her right eye. Despite her distressed appearance, the warm orange glow lit up her face in a way that seemed almost angelic.
As she hesitantly let Dutch help her off the back of his horse, she looked around at you and the others with mad yet grief-stricken eyes. When standing securely on the ground, she continued to look about wildly; she looked left, right, and behind her as if anticipating an assault from any angle at any moment. For a fleeting instant, her frantic movements paused as her eyes landed on yours, softening ever so slightly before quickly returning to their frenzied state. When her eyes pulled away, you noticed how your breathing had hitched and a warm feeling had crept it's way up to your cheeks, distracting you from the cold for a second or two.
Dutch continued to speak but you didn't pay attention to the words he was saying. All you could focus on was the struggling creature who had been placed before you, as if Dutch had brought home a stray dog that hadn't eaten in weeks. When you thought Dutch was about to speak your name, your mind snapped back into place and was re-immersed with the rest of the world around you. Instead, he said two other names.
"Miss Tilly, Miss Karen, would you warm her up, get her a drink of somethin'?" Dutch had said. Further taking in the sight of the disheveled woman, you wanted badly to help her feel less, well, disheveled. Despite your longing, her anxious demeanor told you to stay back, to let the two women that Dutch had called take care of her, as you didn't want to overwhelm her with new faces.
"And ," Dutch said, "It's going to be okay. You're safe now."
Adler, you thought to yourself. , married. Could that have something to do with it?
You and the other ladies lumbered back through the thick snow and entered your new cabin with shivering guided by the arm by Miss Tilly and Miss Karen. You entered behind them and closed the door to block out the howling winds outside. You made your way to the opposite side of the room and found a place on the floor to lay out a bedroll. With that, you laid down, turned away from the others, and tried to fall asleep.
It took a while to finally drift into unconsciousness. The woman's cries rang throughout the cabin; "My husband... they killed my husband..." she sobbed in a rough, shaky voice. I guess that's the answer, you thought. You eventually fell asleep, but all the while the haunted aura of your new roommate lingered in your mind.
You woke up the next morning to bright sunlight piercing through your eyelids, as well as the usual yapping of .
"I swear, if you were given the normal tasks of the other women, you can bet you'd already have washed 20 outfits before the sun was even half as high," she nagged, forcing you to role onto your back and finally open your eyes to see the old woman frowning down at you.
"Well, good morning to you, too," you retorted.
"You're lucky you ain't one of mine. I'd be makin' sure you wake up extra early on account of your tongue," she snapped back.
"Well, lucky me, I can't hunt at night- can't shoot what I can't see," you said with a small smirk, earning you a disgruntled eye roll as Grimshaw left to go find another target.
You did have to agree, though, that the bright rays of light shining through the window were a good indication that you should start to go about your day. You also noticed through the glass that the windy snowing of last night's storm had ceased. Wait, you thought, the night before... ! The comfort of sleep had lulled the thought of the widow from your mind, but as you stood to get dressed, everything came rushing back- her anguished eyes, her rough skin, her unkempt hair.
You looked towards the left side of the cabin, and sure enough, there she was. At least one of the three aspects that you remembered of her grave appearance had left. It seemed as if one of the other ladies had lent her some clothes and helped tidy her up a bit. She wore a plain, striped dress and her hair fell more neatly over her shoulders. Without the covering of the oversized jacket, you were able to see the woman's muscular build. Her arms were more filled out than most of the other women and she had a sturdy figure. Maybe she won't be just like the other women, you thought to yourself.
Despite her build and new clothes, looked in possibly even worse shape than the previous night. The adrenaline coursing through her veins must have ran its course as now the formerly hectic widow sat by herself on the other end of the cabin, sipping coffee with a blank and hollow stare. She looked to be more of a shell than a person, having been drained of all energy and anxiety to instead be replaced by nothing but numbness.
You and her were the only ones left in the room, the other ladies busy with all of the demands given to them by . You felt an odd sense of awkwardness between the two of you- odd in the sense that there was no way in Hell that cared about the silence in the space. Hell, she might not have even noticed that you had gotten up.
Wanting to shake your own sense of unease, coupled with the same sympathetic feelings of when you first met her, you slowly walked over to . Slowly, as if not to alert her with any quick movements, like a dear or a rabbit. As you got close and sat down in the chair next to her, didn't say anything. She didn't even move her head to face you. All the greeting you got was a quick sideways glance of her eyes before returning to her unfixated state of staring at where the floor and the wall meet.
"Hello, ," you say to her softly. She gives you a small, almost unnoticeable hum in response. Good enough, you thought. "I know many of the other ladies have been taking care of you last night and this morning, but I want you to know that it's not just them who want to help you. I want to help you, too."
The widow shifted her unfocused gaze slightly towards your direction, still not meeting your eye.
"I've been told I'm a good listener. If you ever need anything, or just need somebody to listen, I'll try to be there whenever I can," you said. This time you earned a nod.
"The only times I can't really do much is when I'm out hunting or looking for herbs, but whenever I'm at camp, I promise you can count on me as a friendly face." With this, looked up to meet your eyes for the first time that conversation, and the second time in the past twelve hours. You hadn't noticed it before in the dark night, but her eyes were a beautiful shade of dark brown, like a grizzly's pelt. The dark circles under her eyes were outshined by her long, black eyelashes, perfectly framing the whites of her eyes in a thin almond-shape. "Thank you..." she said quietly in her gravely voice. Your mind could have been playing tricks, but you could have sworn that you noticed a flash of light in her face, a sign of some emotion other than grief.
She looked as if she was considering saying more, but the idea was broken off when Mary-Beth came through the door.
"Oh, I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I just came to give you a refill on your coffee there," she said. gave her the same, small hum that she had given you minutes ago, returning to her trance of staring blankly out in front of herself.
Mary-Beth poured a very small amount of coffee into the mug. You had noticed her sipping her mug the whole time, but didn't realize that hardly any of it was being drank. The depressed widow had been sipping for the sake of sipping, taking in very little of her drink. You looked over the widow to the tattered nightstand on her left and saw an almost untouched plate of eggs and venison as well.
With the silence that had refilled the room, you looked down at your pocket watch. 8:47, it read. Shit, I actually need to start the day or else Grimshaw might be right about me, you thought. You turned back to the other women.
"Well, I think I'd best be off...Mary-Beth... ," you nodded to them each while leaving though the door and going to look for a horse to borrow.
Your interpretation of as an empty shell couldn't have been further from the truth. A better description would have been an old damn, slowly raising the level of the river until it finally broke, all the water rushing through with great force.
Over the course of the weeks following the gang's arrival at the Ambarino camp, the sight and sound of a weeping became a common sight. The shock of her husband's death had ran out, leaving the poor widow stuck in her harsh new reality with the only way to release her anguish being through tears.
You and the other ladies took turns comforting her, often bringing her food that she barely touched.
When it was your turn, you found that very little success came from small actions like bringing her a blanket or coffee, or rubbing your hand comfortingly over her back. The only time when the tears seemed to trickle a little slower was when you told her your stories. The other women had tried this, telling her about the details of their day, trying to distract from her grief. Unfortunately, it never worked. Your stories seemed to be the exception. You told her about your adventures out hunting- how you had once manage to fend off a whole pack of wolves, how you had tracked down a huge buck that fed the camp for days, how a coyote had stolen your bag when out collecting herbs. The last story had brought a small smile to her lips, another flashing sign of hope.
You, Arthur, and Charles went out on a brief hunting trip one day to bring back food for the camp as the supply was getting low. You cinched up your winter boots and hopped onto Hosea's horse that you were borrowing. You always liked borrowing his horse- it was usually much calmer with an unfamiliar rider than the others.
Around a plain, loose-fitting dress you wore the thick, dark green hunting cloak that had been passed down to you all the way from your Grandmother. Its heavy fabric flapped around your shoulders as your steed picked up speed.
"I do not know how the hell you hunt in that getup," Arthur said to you while riding to the hunting spot. "I mean, why don't you just get some men's clothes at this point?"
"First off, Arthur, I gotta find at least some way to keep my family with me, and second, if Grimshaw ever saw me wearing pants, I'd never here the end of it," you snorted, picturing the woman's face ripe with repulse at the thought.
"Alright, alright, gotcha. Speaking of the other women, though, how's that widow doin'? What was her name again? Mrs...Mrs..," Arthur trailer off in question.
"Adler. ," you told him.
"Yeah, her. I'm not sure she'll be eatin' much, no matter how much we come back with," he said. Oh, she already isn't eating much of anything, you thought to yourself. Now that you were thinking about it, the depressed woman had lost much of the strong form that she had shown up with, now much thinner and more tired looking. She'd mostly just been living off of the salt of her own tears.
"She's got a wild look in her eye," remarked Charles.
"You would too. She lost her husband, her home, everything she had," said Arthur. Wow, her home too? I guess that explains why she's running with us now.
"What exactly happened that night when you found her?" you asked, a question that had been plaguing you, but knew it'd be too rude to ask directly.
"Well, there was this cabin on a ranch we found up north. We went to go rob the folks living there but instead found those damn O'Driscolls had beat us to it. They apparently had murdered the husband at some point, too. We fended 'em off and that's when the poor girl came up from the cellar where she was hidin' to find Micah looting her house. She went mad, she did, waving a knife around at Micah. Had Dutch not calmed down the situation, she very well mighta. Kind of wish she did," chuckled Arthur. "Anyways, that bastard set a fire to the place. Couldn't of just left her there in the snow with her house burnin' down- it'd be as good a' killin' her. So, here she is with us.
"Wow," Charles said, who had clearly been hoping for a less tragic answer, "those O'Driscolls sure are a mean bunch."
"They sure are," you said quietly.
A couple weeks continued to pass and the whole gang grew more and more restless about wanting to leave to better weather. Some of the boys recently had a very successful train robbery, putting the gang's shares at a good place for moving on to a new home. You were eager to get on the road again, just like everybody else. To be honest, you'd kind of been missing society, despite the excitement of the outlaw lifestyle. Well, it wasn't very exciting as of now. There wasn't much to do other than hunt, and despite your comments to Arthur about the appeal of your garments, the clothes you were wearing didn't do much to protect you from the freezing weather. There was also drawing, but there still wasn't much to draw other than endless, evergreen-studded hills of snow.
A third activity was, of course, telling you stories to . She always seemed to enjoy the stories of your travels, which had gotten much more personal as you were forced to search deeper for more tales to tell. You tried to steer away from the more tragic tales, not wanting to add to the woman's glum state. She had become much more emotionally stable, though, at least on the outside. She still cried plenty, but at least she was talking quite a bit more.
"No, thank you, I ain't hungry."
"Would you mind tellin' another one?"
"I'm gonna go get me some fresh air."
On some sunnier days you'd seen her out on short walks or even helping out with some chores. Though nowhere near secure, was definitely showing signs of improvement. That's all we can really ask for.
On one clear, bright morning, you awoke to find that the day you'd been waiting for had finally come. The wagons were being loaded up with everything that could be carried and the ladies were climbing into a wagon together. Wanting to help speed up the process, you helped load some of the supplies, and within a half hour, the Van Der Linde gang had set off, yet again, in search of a new place to live.
*End of Part 1*