That morning Emily woke up with an urgent need: she needed to brush her teeth. She hadn't done it in thee days and started wondering how could those people live without brushing. She had asked Mary-Beth, of course, who confirmed the existence of toothbrushes and paste, but they didn't use it. Apparently in 1899 it was considered as something only rich people could do, because they had time and money to waste in personal hygiene. So Emily had to settle for an old friend: the chewing gum. They kindly informed her that gum was an old habit already and that the mint flavor variation appeared at least thirty years earlier, a fact that surprised her.
After all the work Miss Grimshaw had given them the day before, there was nothing to do at camp, and when Emily said nothing, she meant nothing. Again, she questioned Mary-Beth, asking her what did they do when they didn't work. Her answers was: nothing. They read something, wandered around, complained about the boredom, insulted each other. The last one seemed to be an important part of camp-life: instead of talking with each other, act like a group, like a family, at the first chance they had they were at each other's throat.
For example Emily soon understood Mary-Beth, Tilly and Karen didn't like Molly, and apparently Miss Grimshaw didn't like her, either, but Emily couldn't understand why. They were all women living in a difficult situation, they should have sticked together, have each other's back. Where was their sisterhood?
When Mary-Beth returned to her book, Emily started walking among the tents, preparing herself to a day full of attempts to understand those people, the only thing she could do to avoid being bored to death. After all, she had no music, no interesting books, no TV and no Internet.
As she reached the center of the camp, she spotted Miss Grimshaw sipping something from a cup right next to the pot in company of the man who Emily learned to be Mr. Strauss, the money lender. She gulped and summoned all her courage before approaching them. That woman had something that attracted her like a moth with a lantern, the same effect Hosea had on her.
"Good Morning, Miss Grimshaw" she said shyly.
"Morning to you" she replied.
Even when she wasn't giving orders, the inflection of her voice was strong and straightforward.
"Morning" said Strauss and Emily nodded as an answer.
"I-I was wondering, why everybody addresses to you with your last name, Miss Grimshaw?"
The woman seemed taken aback by that strange question and for a moment she struggled with her own thoughts.
"I guess it's a way to show respect. Even though they don't give me much respect apart from calling me by my last name. These new generations, they'll be the ruin of this world."
Emily smiled at her complaining, thinking about all the times she had heard something like that in 2020. Some things never change.
"That's a pity, you have really a beautiful name, they should use it more often."
Miss Grimshaw frowned.
"Are you trying to make fun of me, girl?"
"N-no, Miss Grimshaw, never! I-I… you just remind me a lot of… my mother has a similar personality. She's not as strict as you are, b-but… she's the one who governs the house
and gives orders and taught me how to take care of myself."
Emily talked with her head low, thinking how pathetic she was sounding.
"What about your father?" asked Mr. Strauss and Emily noticed his foreign accent.
"Oh no, my father is more like a subject" she laughed.
Then, after an embarrassing silence fell, Emily addressed Mr. Strauss.
"You have a strange accent. Where you come from?"
"Really? My grandfather's brother lived for some time in Austria after the war ended and he kept telling us how much Austrians were different from Germans. He said they were more… friendly somehow."
"Which war?" asked Mr. Strauss.
"The… Second World War" answered Emily, but while she pronounced the words she already new they couldn't understand.
"Sorry, I shouldn't be talking about things you still haven't lived."
"Oh for Lord's sake girl. When will you give it a rest with this nonsense?" Miss Grimshaw rebuked her.
"It's not her fault, Susan. You can perfectly tell she really believes in her delusions" answered Mr. Strauss.
Emily lowered her eyes and felt like she had been stabbed in the back. They didn't believe her, but what could she expect? They seemed two down to earth people, they didn't have the predisposition to believe her.
"I'm sorry, I-I'll go find something else to do than bother you" she murmured and without looking at them she quickly walked away.
Her legs leaded her in the back of the kitchen and she realized where she was only when she saw the prisoner tied at the tree. Again, she thought that probably he was tied there for a reason, maybe because he was too dangerous, or that he had done something terrible, and he deserved to be there. So again she walked away without looking at him twice.
As she kept going, thinking about how many people in that camp were just not going to believe her and her story, she passed right in front of Arthur's tent, but he wasn't there. She stopped and looked around for a second, being sure he wasn't in her range of sight before drawing closer.
The first thing that stroke her was the number of photographs: one of a woman on the table, another woman on the crate at the back of the bed, and then three on the side of the wagon. On the table by the bed there also was Arthur's hat, which Emily took before sitting on the cot. She looked at it for a while before placing it on her head and smiling feeling how heavy it was compared to what she expected. Then, she turned around to look better at the three photos on the wagon.
There was a… dog? There was a man, who, thanks to the resemblance to Arthur and to the name written on a tablet he was holding, Emily could understand was his father. But was the third photo that shocked Emily most of all: a young Arthur with two young Dutch and Hosea! The latter was the one Emily focused on, with his very pale blond hair, and she couldn't help but notice he was incredibly handsome! Even more than Arthur who with the years had got definitely better.
So, that was the place Arthur slept in, she thought turning to sit straight again. Maybe he had his diary somewhere. She looked around, but the only thing she found was a little newspaper cutting dated 1887 about a bank robbery, and reading the description of the suspects, Emily recognized Dutch, Hosea and Arthur. She laughed picturing the scene in her mind, and in the end she was surprised to find out the money they had stolen, they gave it away to the poor.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
Emily turned to smile at Arthur as he walked closer and stood up showing him the cutting.
"A bank robbery?" she asked.
"You know you're trespassing a private property, don't you?"
"I didn't think you minded too much about private property" she laughed.
Arthur took the hat from her head and put it on his with an annoyed face that made everything more hilarious for Emily.
"That's your father, I got this" she said pointing at the photo while Arthur took the cutting from her hands.
"And I suppose this is your mother" she added taking the photo from the table and turning it to read the name.
"Beatrice, it's a beautiful name."
Arthur took the photo too and put it back to its place.
"But I don't understand who's that woman. Your sister maybe?" she asked pointing at the other woman picture.
Arthur took her by her shoulders and made her turn around.
"This is none of your business" he said pushing her out of his tent.
"I'm just trying to know you better. I love that picture with Dutch and Hosea, by the way. The three of you looked awesome!" she replied turning to look at him.
His pissed off face made Emily laugh, but in the end she returned serious.
"I'm sorry you've lost your parents. Your mum looked like a good woman" she said looking at him right in the eye.
"I can't say the same about your dad, because from my understanding he was a criminal too, but…"
Arthur's hands on her made her jump and when he spoke a shiver ran down her back.
"Don't talk about things you don't know" he growled.
She froze on her place looking at his clear eyes. He had the same look of the day before, when they came out of the saloon, the look that had scared her, that made her understand he wasn't joking anymore, the look that had the power to put her back into her place.
As he walked away she felt suddenly heavy. She was sorry and ashamed for what she had done. He was right, she didn't know anything about him, she had no right to say things about him, his family and his past. She wanted to run, reach him and tell him how sorry she was, but she didn't, scared by the fact he could get even angrier.
Emily was a very active kind of person, always working, always doing something with herself, and that situation was boring her, so she had to think about something. Who she wanted to spend her time with? She didn't get to choose. As she left Mr. Morgan's private space, Jack came running and asked her to play again hopscotch.
"Why don't we try something new instead?" she asked kneeling down to look at him right in the eye.
"Do you know other games?"
"Oh I know plenty of games. For example: what do you want to be when you grow up, Jack?"
The little boy frowned: no-one had ever asked him that question and for him it seemed something impossible to answer.
"I don't know" he said in the end.
"Well, when I was little, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be an explorer. So I took my backpack and went exploring."
"What did you explore?"
"Everything. I've been in the African deserts, the highest and coldest mountains of Asia and the thickest jungles of South America."
"Yes, really. I just had to close my eyes and I could see them."
"Use your imagination. Come, I'll show you."
The process was more difficult than Emily expected. Jack was four years old, but she had never seen a more down-to-earth kid in all her life. Imagination was a strange word in his vocabulary.
"When Uncle Hosea reads a story to you, you imagine what happens on your head, right?" she asked.
"It's the same thing, you just have to take the images from your head and bring them in the reality. Now, first of all, explorers have hats, big hats, so we have to find two."
After they found the hats - Emily borrowed a big one from Charles and Jack one from his father - she started with her play. She brought him into the woods, searching among the leaves and dirt for traces of the 'big mountain gorilla', then she made him cross the 'Pacific Ocean' on a canoe, which was a crate, and landed on the exotic 'New Guinea'.
"Look, Jack!" she exclaimed pointing her finger at Tilly in the distance.
"She's one of the native girls of the island. Should we approach her and find out if she speaks our language?"
The new girl was playing again with Jack and this time her game was even crazier than the jumping on numbers. They kept wandering around camp, or in the woods, or on the edge of the cliff and pointing at things that didn't exist. At one point they even approached the fire, where some of the gang members were sitting, with a stealth and careful pace like they were hunting a dangerous animal, but instead the girl pointed at Uncle's face and said: "Look Jack, this is a great shaman of the Australian desert. They say he has magical powers. We should show our respects."
Javier, Bill and Uncle himself laughed in a snort looking at her slim figure bowing in reverence.
"Oh great shaman, please, enlighten us with your wisdom."
"What exactly are you doing?" exclaimed Lenny coming closer to the fire.
"Oh no! They sent one of their warriors. Hurry Jack, bring me my sword, we have to defend ourselves!" she yelled at the little boy.
Without hesitation, he run away and Emily looked at Lenny who was about to sit down.
"No, no don't sit, please. We have to fight" she said.
"I won't fight with you" he replied.
"Come on, Lenny! I'm doing it for Jack."
"What? Acting like a fool?" asked Bill.
"Playing with the imagination. He needs this" she answered.
Lenny didn't want to, it was stupid, it was humiliating, but she was begging him with the eyes.
"Here's your sword!" yelled little Jack running towards her and giving her two sticks.
"Take your weapon, sir. We'll see if you are as brave as the stories tell" she said with a big fake voice and handed one stick to Lenny.
He sighed and looked at the people around him as they were all wondering if he would have played that stupid game. He had no choice: he took the stick and put himself in position.
The mayhem she was causing caught the attention of more people until even Dutch came out of his tent to look at the scene.
"The hell are they doing?" he heard Arthur's voice by his side.
"I have no idea" he laughed.
Lenny dodged and attacked again and finally succeeded in hitting Emily's leg.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed and threw herself on the ground.
"Jack! Jack come here! I need you to take my place! Here, take the sword. Fight my faithful friend, fight for my honor!"
Everybody laughed again at her words as Jack took her place in the "fight".
Arthur chuckled too and took a few steps towards that unusual scene. That girl had had the power to make Lenny play. Lenny, who always did everything in his power to make the others believe he was a grown up man. How had she done it?
"Well, she surely is a better actress than you, Arthur" joked Hosea showing up by his side.
"Yeah, maybe you should take her with you at the next robbery."
"Maybe I will."
Finally, Lenny let Jack hit him and, just like Emily had done, he threw himself on the ground and played dead. A loud shout of joy raised from the people around them for Jack's victory and Emily was delighted by the fact that she had been able to involve all of them in the game.
"Okay, I guess it's done. Go give the hat back to your daddy. We'll explore more another day" she said taking Charles' hat off.
Jack hopped away and she walked closer to Lenny as he was standing up.
"Thank you for playing the game. I didn't know you were such a good actor" she joked.
"Never good as you" he replied.
"And also thanks to the great shaman, for his infinite patience" she addressed Uncle with another bow.
"My pleasure, dear. You'll be surprised to know I've actually been to Australia."
"Really? When?" she asked sitting on the log near the campfire.
"Australia? You?" asked Bill making Emily understand he didn't believe him.
"Why is it so difficult to believe?" she asked.
"Ah! I'm more inclined to believe you come from the future than he's ever been to Australia."
"And you're right, I never did."
"So, you lied?" she asked.
"I've never been there, but I tried to. I made it as far as Chicago" answered Uncle.
Emily fixed her eyes on him, trying to understand if he was playing dumb, or he really was, before she busted out laughing.
"Chicago ain't nowhere near Australia" exclaimed Bill, who unlike Emily seemed annoyed by Uncle's words.
"No… but it's on the way."
Emily laughed again, louder and longer.
"What's so fun?" asked Bill.
"You can't be serious Uncle" she said among the tears.
"Why not? That's the way for Australia. Maybe one day we'll all go there and live the rest of our lives as kangaroo farmers."
Emily couldn't believe her ears. If those people were outlaws their only crime was lack of common sense!
"Okay, I think I'll return the hat to Charles" she said standing up and drying her tears.
She covered the distance to Mr. Smith's tent still thinking about that crazy conversation she had just had, the road to Australia that passed through Chicago, the kangaroo farmers… That man couldn't be serious.
"Here, Charles. Thank you for lending me this" she said at the man as she reached his tent.
He was making some arrows and the thing intrigued her so much that she stopped by his side for a while to look at him working. But of course she didn't limit herself to watch, she had to ask questions. She asked him everything about making arrows, the type of feathers he had to use, the type of wood, and then she passed to bows, how difficult it was to use one, how difficult it was to make one…
Charles had never minded to teach people how to do things and that was the only thing that stopped him from standing up and walk away from her. She was a good girl after all, she just had one flaw: the constant need to speak.
"I know that Natives learn how to hunt from their horses when they are very young, is that true?" she asked.
"Yeah. How do you know it?" Charles asked in turn. That was his first question.
"I read it somewhere. Is it difficult? To ride a horse, I mean."
"You can't do it?"
She shook her head.
"You want to learn?"
"Oh no, for God's sake. I hate horses."
Charles couldn't believe what she had just said and stopped what he was doing to look at her.
"I mean… I don't hate horses, I just don't like them. They're dangerous."
"Who told you that?"
"Has he ever ridden one?"
She seemed to think deeply about it.
"No, I don't think so."
"So, he doesn't know what he's talking about."
"But they are dangerous."
"Only if you can't control them."
Charles watched her carefully before he took his decision.
"Come, I'll show you" he said standing up from his chair.
"Show me what?"
"That there is nothing to be afraid of."
"No, Charles, really, I don't…"
"Come" he said and took one of her hands to help her stand.
Arthur had been looking at them from the distance while they were seated one on the chair and the other on the ground. From that little that he knew about Charles, he could perfectly tell he was extremely annoyed by all those questions the girl was asking him, but he was behaving wonderfully, and he didn't expect nothing less from Charles.
As he saw them standing up and walking away, his curiosity raised and he moved away from the tree he was laying against to follow them. They reached the external part of camp and he heard Charles saying "wait here" to the girl before he drew closer to the horses.
Arthur took the pack of cigarettes and brought one to his lips, lighting it and taking a puff. Charles came back, leading his horse by the reins. What were they doing? Were they planning to go someplace? Where could Charles possibly take her?
In the meantime, Charles had come back and stopped his horse right in front of her, who, in some kind of involuntary reflex, took a step backwards.
"Here, you see? You have nothing to be afraid of. She's calm and completely under control. Touch her."
"Come on, stroke her. Here on the neck" said Charles showing her how to do it.
Emily felt her heartbeat speed up as she took a step towards that big creature. She was really doing it, she was really about to touch a horse. Well, technically, she had already touched one, the night they had brought her to camp, but now she was doing it intentionally.
She expected everything from horses but being so soft. They really had the smoothest kind of hair and this new unexpected sensation pushed her to keep touching it.
"Hey, what are you doing?" asked a familiar voice.
Emily turned her head to look at Arthur and with a thin whisper, just like she was afraid she would have troubled the horse if she spoke too loudly, she said: "I'm touching a horse!"
"What, you never…"
But Arthur had no need to ask it, he could perfectly tell she had never touched a horse from the way she was doing it.
"Not like this" he sighed coming closer and throwing away his cigarette.
"You always have to keep her calm, so use all your hand, like this" he said patting the horse's neck and Emily couldn't not notice how big his hands were.
She followed his example, but the horse, with all those hands on it, for a moment felt irked and shook its big neck. Emily gasped and took a step back, withdrawing her hand like a shellfish inside its shell.
"Shh shh shh. Easy. You have nothing to worry about, really. She's the quietest horse on earth" said Charles.
"It's a she? What's her name?" asked Emily.
"I've never seen a horse with all these strange colors" she stated touching a lock of the horse's mane.
Taima was brown, a little bit reddish, black, white, grey, spotted, plain. She looked like a Picasso of colors.
"This breed generally is" answered Charles.
"Breeds? There are horses breeds?"
Arthur and Charles exchanged a puzzled look before they both looked at her.
"Sorry, stupid question. From the way you're looking at me I guess there are horses breeds."
After a moment of silence, Emily took a step away and said: "okay, thank you Charles."
"What, you're done? You don't want to mount up?" he asked.
"What? No no no. Never."
"You have to learn if you want to move around here."
"I don't need to. I can use the wagons."
"A wagon is far slower and catches more attention. Charles is right: you should learn" said Arthur.
"I will never get on one of these things."
"It's easy. Show her, Arthur."
Emily withdrew as she watched Mr. Morgan put both his hands on the saddle and a foot in the stirrup.
"If you want to sit straddle, you do this way" he said hoisting up and sitting on the back of Taima.
"But if you wear a dress and you want to sit like a lady… Charles would you help her?"
Charles walked by her side and did as to take her by her waist, but she took a step back and shook her head.
"No, no, really…"
"We'll be right here. Nothing will happen" Charles reassured her.
"And I'm staying on the horse with you" added Arthur looking at her from the above.
Emily felt something moving inside her stomach: he was staying with her on the horse. She walked towards Charles's hands who in a blink of an eye raised her and she found herself on a pretty hard saddle and with her face very close to Arthur's. He smelled of tobacco.
"See there's nothing to worry about. When you'll start to feel comfortable on a horse, Charles here can teach you how to ride."
"Can't you teach me?" she asked naively.
Arthur's eyes met hers and for a second all around her slowed down.
What was she doing? Was she really starting to like him? An outlaw, a criminal, a man who was at least ten years older than she?
He chuckled and looked away.
"I can't, Miss. I'm leaving tomorrow" he said.
Leaving? To go where? To do what? She wanted to ask all these questions, but all that she could do was saying a disconsolate "oh".
"But don't you worry, Charles here is one of the best riders, he'll do a great job."
An idea popped in Emily's mind: if she had learned how to ride a horse by the time Arthur had come back, they would have been able to wander around together. Again, it was a silly and childish thought, but Emily was like this, sweet and naive.
She stretched out her arms and made Charles understand she wanted to get down. He dutifully helped her and then Arthur dismounted Taima.
"Which one is your horse, Arthur?" she asked looking at the other animals around her.
"That one" he pointed to a spotted brown and white horse.
"Is it a 'he' or a 'she'?"
"A 'he'" he answered walking towards it with Emily right behind him.
"He has a name?"
"Not yet. I found it recently and I haven't had the time to choose one."
To Emily that white and brown mantle reminded more of a cow than a horse, and cows reminded her of ranches. Looking at Arthur for a brief moment, she imagined him like a rancher, with that cowboy hat and a whip in his hands to make the cattle move, and a name appeared in her mind.
"Drover" she murmured.
"Drover? You have an unusual taste for horses names" he laughed.
"I didn't know there was a rule for horses names."
He chuckled and silence fell again as Emily couldn't remove from her head the idea that he was going to leave.
"Where will you go tomorrow?" she asked.
"I'll wander for a bit, see if I can find something, stay on my own."
"How long are you going to stay away?"
She couldn't restrain herself from asking and for second she had the impression that Arthur was becoming suspicious of all those questions, but he fast hided it.
"I don't know, as long as I need."
"But… I'm sorry, I don't understand. You already have all the freedom you can possibly want here. You can leave tomorrow morning and come back in the evening, no-one said you have to spend days out. And then, what will you do on your own? Without company. Won't you be bored to death? Or feel lonely?"
Arthur smiled and shook his head. No, she couldn't understand, and he couldn't understand her, either. Their time was different, their way to do things was different, Emily knew it, deep inside her. Arthur didn't, because he couldn't accept the fact that she came form another time, but he had realized she had a different mindset and that was exactly what made him curious about her, even though he didn't feel the same she felt for him.
"I have my own way of doing things" he cut short in the end.
Emily just nodded and she was about to walk away when she thought of something else.
"I'm sorry about this morning. You were right, I shouldn't stick my nose in your life. Peace?" she asked showing him her little finger.
Arthur smiled again at that childish way to apologize and then murmured "peace" before he patted her on her shoulder and walked away.
Who knew what he was going to do around the country all alone for an indefinite number of days? Emily kept asking herself that, while she walked around camp again. Her feet brought her back to her tent where Karen and Mary-Beth were seated.
"Hi, what are you doing?" she asked.
"Mending socks" replied Mary-Beth.
Then, she raised her look on her and frowned slightly.
"What have you been doing? Your hair is messy" she asked.
"Oh, I played with Jack. The brush is in your crate, right?" said Emily walking to the back of the wagon.
"Yes, always there."
Emily opened Mary-Beth's crate and took her hairbrush, which she had already used plenty of times in the previous days. It wasn't something she was used to, use other people things, especially hairbrushes, but she had no choice. She returned to the front of the wagon and took a seat next to them.
"Uff, it's not fair. Men can go around, drink, fight, do whatever they want, and we are forced to stay here and sew socks" complained Mary-Beth.
"Who said that? We can take a wagon and go to Valentine. Have some fun, meet some people…" replied Emily.
"Yeah, keep living in the dream land" said Karen with her usual sarcasm.
Emily put the brush down to look at her.
"We are free. Don't let anyone ever tell you something different" she stated with the hardest tone she could use.
"Yeah, look at how much freedom we got."
"What do you mean?" asked Mary-Beth.
"They don't allow us to do anything apart from… clean, govern the house and lie on our backs for money. If that means freedom for you."
Emily sighed. It was 1899, she always had to remind herself that.
"I guess you're right. We can't even vote" murmured Mary-Beth.
"Why you care about voting?" asked Karen.
"I don't know, it's one of the things I'd like to do."
"Don't worry, you will. And soon" said Emily with a big smile.
"Really? When?" exclaimed Mary-Beth while Karen scoffed.
Emily moved her eyes from one to the other.
"I don't know if I should tell you."
"Oh come on! It won't make any difference if two people know" Mary-Beth encouraged her.
Emily leaned forward and made sign to her to do the same.
"1920" she whispered.
"So early! Really?"
"Yeah, of course" Karen snorted.
"Well, when we get to 1920 we'll see who's right. We're all gonna make it to that year" Emily replied.
Karen frowned and fixed her eyes on Emily's face, who stared back at her.
"We?" she asked.
"Well, until I find a way to time-travel back to 2020 I don't see I have much of a choice. And when all the things I say will happen, one after the other, even you will have to believe me."
Emily smiled. She smiled not because she had cornered Karen, but because she thought that, if Karen started to believe her, they could've become friends, or at least she would stop to dislike her for no reason, and in time she'd be forced to believe her.
"Anyway" said Karen shaking her head.
"Even if we'll get to vote, who will you vote for?" she asked to Mary-Beth.
"Well… I have no idea. When the time comes I'll think about it" she answered.
"Who's your president now?" asked Emily. She couldn't remember.
"P. W. McIntosh" answered Karen.
"What about 2020? Who's the president?" asked Mary-Beth.
"Oh, she is a great woman. Just think that…"
"Wait. She?" exclaimed Karen.
Both she and Mary-Beth were looking at her with their eyes wide open.
"Yes, she's a woman. I told you, things are different in the future. No more discrimination."
Emily was surprised by the fact that a woman president was shocking them so much. After all, they only had one hundred years of difference, how much could the minds change in one hundred years? Apparently, a lot.
"So, what we have to do if we want to go to Valentine?" she asked.
"We need a man with us" answered Mary-Beth.
"Oh gosh" she whispered.
She didn't like this patriarchal way to do things at all.
"What if we want to go alone?"
"If we go alone, we go on foot" replied Karen.
"Why not with a wagon?"
"If they steal the wagon in town, it will be our fault. It already happened in the past" answered Mary-Beth.
"So, no wagon. Horses?"
The idea wasn't appealing, but she would do anything to have a little independence.
"Same thing. If they steal one, we won't be able to buy another" said Karen.
"And why should the presence of a man change things?"
"Because men are intimidated by other men, not women" replied Karen.
Her tone was so matter-of-factly, that Emily found nothing to reply.
"Okay, okay. Who do you think is going to come with us?"
They thought of Charles or Javier. They seemed to be the fittest for the task. Emily suggested Uncle, but the two girls denied vigorously. Uncle was useless.
"Okay, I'll go ask them" said Emily standing up.
"Now?" asked Mary-Beth.
"When else? We still have most of the day."
"What about Miss Grimshaw?" asked Mary-Beth.
"We have to ask permission? We're not working" stated Emily.
"She wants to know if we leave camp" replied Karen.
"Okay, I'll ask her first. You two get ready. And ask Tilly if she wants to come" she yelled running away.
Emily found Miss Grimshaw behind Dutch's tent, taking a break and admiring the landscape. She asked permission, trying not to sound begging and pathetic, and to her great surprise she didn't object. Feeling light and a little thrilled by her success she hopped in the opposite direction again to reach the campfire where she had seen Javier. On her way she walked past Hosea, seated at the round table and reading a book.
"Why so happy, Miss Emily?" he asked as he noticed her big smile.
"I'm going to town!" she rejoiced.
"To do what?"
Javier was sharping a little tiny knife when Emily reached him, and she got curious, so first of all she asked him what use might have such a small knife.
"It's a throwing knife" he answered.
"You mean you throw it to people?"
"Of course. Erm… I wanted to ask you, would you come with us in town? The girls and I wanted to have a look around."
"Just me and the four of you?"
"Do you need someone else? I was about to ask Charles."
"Go ask him. I'll get the wagon ready" he said standing up.
The girl smiled at him and her eyes sparkled.
"Thank you, Javier. You're really kind" she said with her light and childish voice. Then, she leaned forward and left a soft kiss on his cheek.
Javier watched at her slim figure as she walked away, feeling the piece of skin she had touched itching slightly. She had called him kind. People used to call him in many ways, but kind, never. She was crazy, no doubt about that, and naive, and quirky, but she was also the sweetest thing he had ever seen, and he couldn't not think of her in the most innocent way because every other kind of thought, felt wrong.
He took a couple of horses and tied them to a wagon, then he hopped in the back and waited for the rest of them to come. He heard them before he saw them. They were loud. Well, they were girls. That was going to be an adventure.
"Come on brother" he said to Charles as they both climbed at the leading place.
On the road to Valentine they listened quietly to the girls' conversation, smiling or chuckling every now and then. They were planning their time in the town. Karen and Tilly wanted to go find some money, the new girl insisted for exploring the surroundings.
"We'll split up then. Charles, you go with Karen and Tilly at the saloon. I'm coming with you two. How does it sound?" asked Javier.
"Good" answered Mary-Beth.
"Do you think we should have asked Molly to come with us? Or Abigail maybe?" asked the new girl.
"Abigail would never leave Jack behind. Miss O'Shea fancies herself a society woman, she would't have never come" said Tilly.
"What do you mean she fancies herself a society woman?"
"She believes she's better than us because she's with Dutch" replied Mary-Beth.
"Are they a couple?"
"Ah-ah" affirmed Tilly.
"So there are: Dutch and Molly, Abigail and John… some other couple?"
"Karen waits for Sean to come back" said Mary-Beth.
"If he's still alive" murmured Karen lowering her eyes.
She missed that little piece of shit. She loved him, deep deep deep inside. She had never told him, and in case he was going to show up again, she had no intention to say it anyway, it would be too much for his already pompous ego.
"What about you girls?" asked Emily avoiding an embarrassing and sad silence.
"Us? With someone in camp?" asked Tilly, but her question was clearly rhetoric.
"Why not? I mean…"
Emily nodded towards Javier and Charles's backs. The two girls shook their heads frowning slightly.
"Okay, so… everybody else is free?" she asked, but in her mind there was only one person she wanted to know about.
"Hosea had a wife once. She died long time ago, even before some of us were in the group" said Mary-Beth.
"And Arthur had that girl. What was her name?" asked Karen.
Emily's heart lost a beat.
"Mary. I've never liked her" said Mary-Beth.
"W-why?" asked Emily trying to hide her disappointment.
"I think she left Arthur because she thinks to be better than him. She doesn't deserve him."
Emily felt immediately better. It was an old story, something of the past. And she had left him, so there was no chance for her return.
"What about you?" Tilly asked her.
"I had a boyfriend. We broke up some time ago because he left Saint Denis for work. I have no idea of what he's doing now."
"Couldn't you go with him?" asked Mary-Beth.
"And leave my family and my job? For him? No, it wasn't worth it."
"Didn't you love him?"
"Well, yes, but not that kind of love that makes you leave everything to follow him."
"Then it wasn't love."
Mary-Beth's statement outraged Emily. Of course it was love. She had loved him. Or not? If that wasn't love, what was?
Valentine was quieter that day. There were definitely fewer people wandering in the big muddy street and that was perfect according to Javier: fewer people meant fewer possibilities to be recognized, targeted or disturbed. They left the wagon where they could keep an eye on it while they had a look around and then they split: Charles went with Karen and Tilly at the saloon, while Javier, Mary-Beth and Emily walked past it.
"I need to stop by the Gunsmith. You want to wait here or…" he said as he saw the big sign painted on the top of the building.
"No, no, we come with you. I'm here for this" replied the new girl.
They crossed the street and entered the blu house. The store was poorly stocked with gun's variety, but Javier didn't mind it, he was there for a problem with one of his pistols and wasted no time in asking the shop-owner.
"Do you clean your weapon regularly?" he asked.
"Then, it can be due to the wear. You can buy a single piece or if you are interested we have a fine supply of new Cattleman Revolvers, sir. They came the other day directly from Saint Denis."
"I'll take the single piece."
"As you wish, sir."
While the shop-owner walked in the other room, Javier turned around to watch the new girl admiring a display cabinet full of Lancasters.
"I thought you was scared of guns" he said making her turn around.
"I am, when someone holds one. Here displayed and closed up, no."
"Is there something else I can provide for you, sir? A new rifle maybe? A shotgun?" asked the owner coming back with the new piece in his hand.
"What's the difference between a rifle and a shotgun?" asked Emily walking closer to the counter.
"Well, there are plenty of differences, Miss. The most important is that a rifle can shoot farther and with more precision than a shotgun, thanks to the little grooves of the bore."
"Wow, it's fascinating. What's the most accurate rifle you've got?" she asked laying her elbows on the counter.
"The Carcano Sniper Rifle. This one" he replied pointing to a big firearm inside a cabinet.
"It can hit a target at a great distance without making the bullet lose it's power."
"For being afraid of guns you're quite interested" joked Javier taking out his money to pay the man.
"Hey, I'm just curious. It's always good to learn something new. Thank you, Mister. Have a good day" she said to the man before she followed Javier outside.
"So, what you want to do now?" he asked as soon as the three of them walked out of the store.
"I don't know. Just let's look inside the other stores, I'm really curious to know how they're like."
Javier sighed thinking that that trip to town was going to be useless, but he followed her anyway when she crossed the road and aimed for the doctor. They walked inside and just like before the new girl started looking around with that admiring expression of hers, just like she had never seen an apothecary before. She watched carefully all the ingredients, medicines and tools displayed in the cabinet behind the counter and from now and then she asked something to the doctor.
"Is this real laudanum?"
"You know it is addictive, don't you? It's like a drug."
"Yes, Miss, but with a proper dosage the addiction can be avoided."
"If you say so" Javier heard her murmur and it made him chuckle.
They were waiting patiently for her to finish her little tour when the door behind them opened and made the little bell above it jingle. Two men came inside, and from their look Javier was sure they weren't there for some laudanum. And in fact they exchanged a look with the doctor who excused himself and went to the other room followed by the two.
Javier took a couple of steps towards the door, acting indifferent but studying the two figures and the doctor as they reached another heavy iron door in the back of the other
room. The doctor knocked and a couple of eyes showed up from a little window. Then, from the other side they opened and let the two men inside. Javier turned around and
pretended to look at something on the table as the doctor came back.
"Hey, what do you think he has back there?" whispered the new girl walking closer to him.
Javier narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. She had noticed the two men, too. How could it be? She was clumsy and distracted, she wasn't paying attention and she had no idea how to find an illegal activity, and that one was clearly some kind of illegal practice the doctor was running.
"I don't know. Something illegal, it seems. There could be some money. Maybe we'll take a look" he replied.
"Do you want to do it now?"
"No, not now. Let's go."
They walked out of the building and decided to go to the saloon to meet the others. Charles was drinking at the bar, Karen was upstairs trying to fool a poor idiot to steal from him, Tilly was at the general store to buy something.
"So, have you found something interesting?" asked Emily reaching Charles's side.
Since she had seen those two men walking inside the apothecary and she had understood something shady was going on there, she was thrilled to bits and couldn't wait to tell it to someone else.
"We found an illegal activity or something like that. Javier says we can try to rob it."
"We?" asked Charles frowning.
"Since when you've become a criminal?"
"Well, technically speaking, the doctor is doing something against the law, so… if we rob him, we're doing something good. Right?"
"I guess" murmured Charles and he drank from the little glass he had in his hands.
Emily had no idea why she had said that. She didn't believe in what she had said: illegal activity or not, robbing him was wrong. The right thing to do was go to the police… no, the sheriff, and tell him about what they had found out. But robbing him could get them some money, which they needed so desperately.
"What are you drinking?" she asked to Charles.
"Can I try?" she asked and looked at the man behind the bar who with a nod of his head turned around to take a bottle.
"You never had whiskey?" asked Charles
"I generally drink beer or cocktails at the parties, but never tried whiskey, no."
"Get me one too, while you're here, buddy" said Javier throwing a coin on the bar.
"Do you want something, Mary-Beth?" asked Emily.
"No, thank you. I'm going to check on Karen" she answered and walked towards the stairs that leaded upstairs.
The barman poured two glasses of amber liquid and served one to Emily and one to Javier who didn't even look at it before he swallowed it.
"Are you sure about the job thing?" she asked at the man behind the counter.
He looked at her in a way that made her understand there was no possibility to get a job there, at least not the job she wanted to get.
"Okay, okay, sorry. I won't ask again."
Then, she took the little glass and just like she had seen people doing in the movies, put all the content in her mouth and down her throat. Needless to say, Charles had to pat her back and ask her if she was okay when she started coughing hard.
"Y-yes, I'm fine. Shit, this thing is strong. How can you drink it all the time?"
"We're used to it" answered Javier.
The three of them turned around to look at the man approaching the counter.
"You were here the other day, weren't you? With the big man with the cowboy hat" he said to Emily.
"Yes, I was here, why?"
"Weren't you looking for a job?"
Emily exchanged a look with Charles before she answered.
"I've got a job for you, honey."
"Really?" she asked naively.
"Right here" he said and he brought a hand to his… private parts.
Emily was used to stupid boys who played silly with her at school or at work, but no-one, no-one, had ever done something like that. She felt outraged, insulted, shameful and she had to look away as the man started to laugh with his friends.
"Hey, watch yourself, cabrón" said Javier.
"What, she's yours? Sorry, partner, but I don't believe such a delicate flower can go with someone like you."
"Listen, why don't you go back to your friends and leave us alone" replied Charles taking a step forward.
"Easy, big fella. I don't want no problems. I just want to try the little thing here" he said with a nod towards Emily, who in the meantime had lowered her head so much that she was looking at the tip of her boots.
The men in the room laughed again and she felt her eyes sting and the shame running through her body. Then, Charles took her by her shoulders and pushed her away.
"We wait for you by the wagon" she heard him saying to Javier.
Just like Arthur had done the day before, he led her out of the saloon and from there they reached the wagon.
"Are you okay?" asked Charles very kindly.
Emily nodded, but she dried a tear from her eye and Charles didn't miss it.
"Don't listen to them. There are always people like that in the world. You have to be strong and don't mind what they say."
Emily nodded again, as the tears started running uncontrollably. She din't want to cry, to appear weak, but yet she couldn't stop herself from doing it. Charles patted her on the shoulder and for her that was the go-ahead: she rounded his waist with her arms and hided her face in his chest.
Charles was surprised by the contact, but he didn't withdraw. How could she be like that? He had never met someone so naive. Life was hard, the world was cruel and there was no escape for anyone from becoming cold, mean and heartless. So either she had lived all her life closed inside a room, or she was… Charles felt bad by thinking that, but she was a little dumb.
Tilly was the first who came back from the store and she helped Emily in recovering from the bad experience. Then, the others showed up and they all got on the wagon and rode back to camp.
That was the second trip to Valentine and again Emily couldn't not think that she didn't like that place. It stank of shit, it was full of assholes and there was nothing interesting.
When they arrived, she decided to take something sweet from the kitchen to cheer herself up a little and reached Mr. Pearson who noticing her sad face decided to give her a chocolate bar.
She thanked him and giving it a bite she walked towards the rest of the camp passing in front of Hosea and Arthur seated at the same round table.
"So, how was Valentine?" asked the former.
Emily, looked first at him and then at Arthur.
"You were right" she said, fixing her eyes on Mr. Morgan's face.
"That saloon is no place for me."
First I want to thank you all for the support. I've received the first comments and... I simply love you guys T_T
So, I hope you now understand what I mean when I talk about the difference between a girl in 1899 and a girl today. Never mind my protagonist, she's a bit naive - when I say a bit I mean A LOT - but still it seems there is an abyss between her and the other girls.
The name Drover was inspired by the beautiful movie Australia with Hugh Jackman.
I imagined Emily like someone who watches a lot of TV so the fact that she understands what's going on at the doctor's is due to that. At the beginning I didn't want it to be a story with action, but I've changed my mind considering the development it has to make.
I hope you liked it :)
See you soon!