Some dreams are worth fighting for.
The smell of pine filled my senses. I could hear the wind as it traveled through those pines. I closed my eyes and listened as it rustled the branches and made them creak. I could feel, on my upturned face, this fine summer day’s sun beat down. I could hear the small sounds of the animals as they scurried about, enjoying this beautiful day almost as much as I was. It had been a long journey, but here I was.
I started my life in Bedford Pennsylvania, the son of a dirt farmer. My mother was from New York and my father was a Scotsman. I grew up listening to the stories of sailing and the great life in the big cities. My father served as a seaman for five years until he earned enough money to be able to buy his own farm.
Where he came from, I guess, the only people that owned land were Lords and Barons. His dream, as a child, had been to have land that he could call his own. He didn’t want to work for some Lord who could take it all away on a whim. So when he was a lad of fourteen he signed on to the nearest ship heading anywhere, but where he was. He saved his money and eventually made second-mate on the ship.
When he arrived in New York Harbor, he decided that America was where he would become a landowner. The land of opportunity, where a man could become whatever he made of himself. He had heard much of the place called Pennsylvania from a fellow shipmate. His friend had lived in a place called Somerset and spoke of the green and lush valleys. That was where my father decided to go.
My father wanted to see some of the sights of New York before heading to Pennsylvania. It was during this tour he met my mother. He often said that when he first saw her he was speechless and for a Scotsman that was quite the accomplishment. My father pursued her “like a fox does the chicken” he used to say. He took a job as a longshoreman to pay his way while he courted her. My father was a big man. You know the kind, broad across the shoulders and chest, and narrow around the waist. He had a peculiar gait, one all men of the sea had. It was sort of a rolling gait as if they were still on the deck of a vessel.
He used to say the work, of a longshoreman, was mind numbing, but he kept a picture of my mother in his head to make it bearable. It wasn’t long before his pursuit paid off and she agreed to marry him. My father said that he just plain wore her down.
My mother once said to me with a wink, “I married him just to shut him up. For a Scotsman with Welsh blood he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He used to try and serenade me. The neighbors would call the constables to get rid of him. I had to marry him just to keep him out of jail.”
After they were married, they took the Erie Canal to the Eastern Branch of the Susquehanna Canal. They took that South to the Juniata River. Then between Halifax and Petersburg they took the Juniata Canal East to Hollidaysburg. They decided to travel south by cart rather than go further East to Johnstown by train and then south into Somerset.
On the journey south through Bedford, I was conceived. My mother was feeling a little under the weather, so my father stopped. When my parents saw the beauty of the land near Shellsburg they fell in love with it. My father found a place near Dunning Creek. He marked out the area of the house, barn, and other out buildings. They told me how they erected a crude shelter and set about building their home.
Not too long after the roof was put on the house, I was born. I guess even as a baby I was a big. My mother liked to kid me when I was young about being born half grown. She said that my father took one look at me and said “he’ll do” while the whole time ready to pop a button with pride. They named me Sampson of all things. By the time the barn was built my mother was pregnant again with my brother Ezekiel. My sister Elizabeth was born by the time the out buildings were built and the second crop sown.
Though my father loved us boys, his daughter was the apple of his eye. To him she could do no wrong. I could tell you stories of the things she got away with or that we were punished for. You just couldn’t help loving her though. She would smile at us and say a kind word and we would forget whatever we were mad at her for.
My father had found a small pocket of gold on our property not too long after they settled there. He had found it while out hunting one day. With some work he managed to gather enough to allow us to live with some security. Hunting for meat was a constant routine. It also had to be butchered and smoked before winter set in. My father used to take any time he could get to go hunting just to keep the family in meat. One day he decided to go to Bedford and get some things we needed. He said he would be back in about a week. Six days later he returned with a wagon filled with chickens and lumber. He had promised my mother a board floor, other odds and ends and supplies to last out the winter which was coming. He also brought two draft horses to help with the plowing and dragging of wood to the house.
He brought a real live milking cow. My mother made butter from the cream and added dandelions to color it a rich warm yellow. She would make biscuits and let us kids slather them with that butter and elderberry jam. It would set my mouth to watering just to think of them.
Well enough ruminating. I had a few more miles till I got to the place I was hoping to camp for the night. I stopped about two hours shy of sundown and fixed myself a hat full of fire, just big enough to make some coffee. I figured on eating some jerky and a few biscuits I had left over from this morning’s breakfast. I pulled my dinged up coffee pot from the top of my pack and filled it with cold water from a nearby stream. I put the water on to boil then pulled some jerky and the biscuits out of my journey bag.
I leaned back on my pack and munched on the jerky. When the water came to a boil I dumped a handful of coffee into the pot and set it back into the edge of the fire to cook. I loved this time of the day, most of my traveling was done and the animals were moving about. Off in the distance I heard the flat crack of what almost sounded like a rifle shot. I knew there was a beaver dam not too far from here and imagined that some predator had wandered too close and the sentry beaver had sounded the warning by slapping his tail onto the water.
Once the coffee came to a boil I put in a splash of cold water to settle the grounds and poured myself a cup. I sat there with the coffee warming my hands and daydreamed about the valley I was headed to. There was a wide valley that channeled down to what appeared to be a solid rock wall. There was a crack in that wall that I had found a couple of years before while trailing a deer I had shot.
The bullet had nicked its heart, but hadn’t killed it right off. It took off running and I gave chase. I knew that I had a good hit and it wouldn’t get far. It had fooled me though. I figured I had it when I saw that it entered the valley.
Imagine my surprise when I got to the end of the valley and there was no buck. I followed the blood trail right into the face of the cliff. Standing not ten feet in front of the cliff I still could not see the opening. I followed the trail and when I walked up to the face I saw the crack and the trail leading into it. I followed the trail for about three hundred yards and it opened into one of the prettiest valleys you ever saw.
From one end to the other must have been about five miles. It was almost two miles across and a stream ran right down the center of it. The stream came into the valley from a water fall that spilled off a cliff at the far end. It meandered its way through the valley till it ran into a crack in the cliff face about a hundred feet from the crack where I entered. I could hear a dull roar where the water must have dropped some distance once it entered the crack.
I found my buck about fifty feet inside the valley. It couldn’t have picked a more splendid place to die. As soon as I saw the valley, I knew it would be where I would build my home. There were stands of aspen along the edges of the valley that would do just fine for building my home. The valley had fresh water and if I hunted away from the valley there was plenty of game too. I had most of what I would need to make it through the first year right there in my pack. I would need to make one more trip to pick up a few more supplies and some reading material. Mother had made sure we had a deep love of literature and reading.
My mother sent all us children to school in Bedford when we were old enough. We boarded with an older lady during the school week and came home on weekends. My father didn’t see the need for schooling, but my mother insisted that she was not raising a brood of uneducated dimwits. In the end my mother won. My father could not find it in himself to refuse my mother. He felt she had given up so much to come there with him.
My father paid the Widow Jenkins in gold for our room and board. Though she said that she would gladly have kept us for just the company and the chores we did. I found out later that her husband had died in some farming accident and hadn’t left her much money. When I had come to stay with her the first time she only had a little bit of tea and some sea biscuits to eat. When my father found out that she was in a bad way, he came up with the idea of our staying with her. The Widow Jenkins was a proud woman and would accept charity from no one. My father told me that he learned about her when he was at the store getting our supplies. When my mother insisted that I go to school, my father suggested that maybe I could stay with the Widow Jenkins so I wouldn’t have to make the long journey. I remember how he had laid it out to my mother and the look she got when he told her about the widow.
She looked at my father for a long time and said, “And that is why I love you.” My father just lowered his eyes and blushed. I only saw my father blush a few times and it was always my mother that would do it.
The next day I went with my father to see the widow. I sat in the entry room while she and my father talked. He explained that my mother insisted on sending her children to school. The widow replied, “That is a very smart wife you have there. If I was you I would cherish her.”
My father said, “I thank the good Lord each and every day for sending her into my life.” They talked for awhile longer and then settled on a price for my room and board. My father also said that he would bring a load of supplies with him when he brought me to stay the first time.
He told her, “He is a growing boy and eats his weight in vittles every day.” Widow Jenkins said that that was not necessary but my father insisted. When he brought me in for my first week of schooling he had picked up enough supplies to feed ten growing boys. When I mentioned that fact to him he just sort of smiled at me and messed my hair. When I got old enough, I understood what he had done and it made me even prouder of him. He had helped this old woman he didn’t even know while still letting her maintain her self-respect.
My brother and then my sister finally joined me at the Widow Jenkins house while we attended school. We soon began to think of her more as a grandmother than a babysitter. One day a few years after I had first started staying with her I asked her if I could call her Grandma Jenkins since I had never met my own grandparents and thought of her more in that capacity than anyone.. Tears welled up in her eyes and I thought I had done something wrong. “I’m sorry,” I stammered. I was afraid that I had offended her. I had just wanted her to know how much she meant to me. She knelt down in front of me and said,
“No my boy you did nothing wrong. You have just made me very happy. I would be honored if you called me Grandma.”
She then hugged me and from that moment on she became Grandma Jenkins. Most of the town folks heard us yelling to her after school and soon picked on calling her Grandma Jenkins rather than Widow Jenkins. Before long she was Grandma to a whole town.
It was from the school and Grandma Jenkins that I learned to love the written word. Books could take me to far off lands and adventures I could only imagine. They also taught me about other peoples and cultures. No matter what was happening in my life I could always escape into the pages of a book. From that time on I never went anywhere without some book or several books tucked away in my pack wrapped in oilskin.
I studied the works of Plutarch and Plato. I read some of the works of Mr. William Shakespeare. I read not only the books that led your mind to faraway places. I read Blackstone’s Commentary on the Law, one of the books that our forefathers used to guide them when creating the laws of our great land. I also read Voltaire and his views on religious intolerance and his books on the natural sciences. I read his friend John Locke’s book, “Two Treatises of Government”. I had a well rounded view of the world at large and I had come to one conclusion early on. The world was a great place if it weren’t for the people. I tended to be a loner and that was why my valley appealed to me so much.
I hadn’t been there for two years and a little bit. Yet, I still thought of it as my valley. I had not dreamed of much else since finding it. I had worked trap lines and been a guide for many a tenderfoot to save the money to be able to move into my valley. I still knew where to get gold if I needed it. My father had shown me where it was. It was not a big pocket, but it was enough to provide a person with a comfortable existence. I didn’t want to use it though. I wanted to make my own way in the world. I wanted to be able to say that what I owned I had earned. Nobody had given it to me.
I visited New York when I was younger and I saw what the men were like who had been raised with wealth and silver spoons in their mouths. They thought that the whole world owed them something. That they deserved whatever they wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I also met some people of substance who were descent, but they were exceptions to the rule.
My father taught me pride of accomplishment. Pride in a job done and done right. I never knew him to have to do a job twice because it was done incorrectly the first time. I have carried that creed with me all my life. Now, I have made mistakes in my life and some have cost me dearly, but I have never made the same mistake twice though.
I can’t wait to reach my valley. I was getting older and I knew it was time to finally settle down and make a home. I poured the last of my coffee and rinsed the pot out. I poured the water on the fire, making sure it was out, and buried the ashes to erase any signs that I had been there. I walked a couple of more miles and then found a spot to bed down for the night. As I lay there looking up at the night sky I could hear the call of a lone wolf in the distance. His call reminded me of myself. We were both alone making our own way. Yet, there was the desire in both of us for someone to share it with. I lifted my head and joined him in his cry. If someone should stumble upon me they would think I was mad. I didn’t care. My brother, the wolf, was letting the world know that he was lonely and I wanted to let it know that I too was lonely. I finally drifted off to sleep with visions of my valley floating through my head.
I came instantly awake, although, I kept my eyes closed and my breathing regular. I let my other senses locate and place the sounds and smells around me. I could smell the dew that had settled on the ground during the night. I could hear the chipmunks and rabbits going about their morning rituals. I could also smell a skunk as he headed home after a night of foraging. Far off I could hear what sounded like a sheep. It must be a fawn calling for its mother.
All seemed right, so I slowly opened my eyes. I stretched my muscles and got the blood flowing. I turned my moccasins over and gave them a shake. I knew a man who didn’t do that and put his foot down into his moccasin right on top of a copperhead snake. Now I don’t take offense if a critter crawls into my shoe. They are just following their instincts. If they can stand the smell they are welcome to use my shoes for an overnight habitat.
Finding no overnight visitors I put on my moccasins and put together a small fire, enough to make coffee and cook some bacon. I used my knife to cut a piece of the sod out and set it aside. I would use this later to hide where my fire had been. I put together some tinder and small twigs. I then used the back of my knife and flint to get the fire going. Blowing gently on the sparks I soon saw my efforts rewarded with a small tendril of smoke and then a flame. I slowly added more tinder ad then twigs. Soon I had a good hatful of fire. I sat my coffee pot on a stone I placed in the middle of the fire to boil. I dug in my pack and pulled out my frying pan and sliced about a pound of bacon into it. Soon it was sizzling in the skillet and the water was starting to boil.
My ears perked up. The chipmunks I heard playing in the background had suddenly gone quiet. Also the camp jay had started up. My hand slowly moved down and closed around my .54 caliber St. Louis Hawkins. As I brought it up my hand eared back the hammer that locked into place with a click. I slowly stood up and pretended to search as if I was looking for something and then slipped into the tree line.
“I know you’re out there so show yourself before you burn my bacon and really get me riled up,” I yelled. I heard a chuckle come from off to my left.
“Now I don’t mean no harm. I just smelled your fatback and coffee cooking. I ain’t had fatback in neigh onto five years nor real coffee in almost two. Been making do with chicory, just ain’t the same,” came a voice that seemed to drag itself out of the bottom of a barrel full of gravel. Sort of like it hadn’t been used in awhile.
A shadow detached itself from the trunk of one of the trees and came out into the open. The man that stood there was one of the strangest characters I had ever seen or imagined. He reminded me of nothing so much as a scarecrow, a very tall scarecrow. He must have stood a little over six and a half feet tall. He was thin almost as if a good breeze would blow him away. He wore buckskins with some bead work that looked like the work of the Chippewa tribe. I wondered what he traded for that. As tall as he was it must have taken twice the normal amount of hides to make. Atop his head was a variation of the coon skin cap. His was skunk, tail and all. In his hand was an old Kentucky flintlock. He carried it as if it was a natural extension of his arm. He carried a powder horn over one shoulder and a ball bag was strapped to his hip. Just in front of the ball bag was a knife that would have seemed large on any one else, but on him seemed the perfect size. His hair was almost white, but still carried some of the brown color of his youth. His face was a map of scars and lines of a life lived and lived well.
He walked over and squatted by my fire. He rested his rifle across his knees and stretched his hands out to warm them over the fire, “Well youngster if you have had your fill of eyeballing me why don’t you come out and we can get to know each other.”
I was listening to the world around us rather than him. The chipmunks had gone back to their play and the blue jay had settled down. It appeared as if this old timer was alone. I slowly stepped into the open keeping the barrel of the rifle pointed at the old man’s chest. I kept my hand over the hammer so that he couldn’t tell whether it was cocked or not.
The old timer chuckled and said, “Now that’s what I like, a right careful man. You’ll do youngster, you’ll do.”
I squatted down sort of diagonally from him and placed my rifle on my knees. I kept the barrel still pointed in his general direction wanting to be cautious but not impolite.
“Better turn that fatback boy before it burns,” the old man said nodding in the general direction of the pan.
I took my knife out and turned it over and pulled the pan out of the fire to let it cool a spell. I added coffee to the boiling water and sat back on my haunches. The stranger had watched my every move. I decided then that this was a very dangerous man. He was always alert, always watching, waiting for an opening.
“Help your self to the bacon,” I said, “Coffee will be ready in a minute.”
The old timer pulled his knife out and stabbed a piece of the bacon, then another and another. Soon the pan was empty and he was mopping up the drippings with some travel bread. I put the splash of cold water in the pot and picked it up using a piece of hide I carried just for that purpose.
He stood up and walked over to the tree line and came back carrying a pack almost as big as I was. He was definitely a lot stronger than he looked. He rummaged around in it for a second and then his face lit up and he pulled forth a cup that had definitely seen better days. He held it out and I poured him a cup. He put it under his nose that resembled nothing more than a buzzard beak.
He took a deep breath inhaling the aroma. A look akin to pure bliss came over his face. “Son this is about as close to heaven as I’ll ever get fatback and a good cup of real coffee.”
I picked up the now empty pan and set it back into the fire. I sliced the rest of the bacon into thick strips about three pounds worth. I had another two sides in my pack and would get more on my trip to get the rest of my supplies. The old timer’s eyes gleamed and I could have sworn I saw some drool escaping out the side of his mouth, which he promptly wiped off on the arm of his buckskins.
Soon the bacon was sizzling away. I picked up my cup which I had set out and filled it to the rim. I took my first sip and enjoyed the flavor and the warmth that spread out as it traveled to my stomach.
“My name is Sampson” I offered looking over the brim of my cup at the old man.
The old man lifted a quizzical eyebrow and said “Like in the bible Sampson?”
“Yes, my mother took one look at me and decided that it was the most appropriate name considering my size.”
He grunted and said “I don’t rightly remember what my real name is any more. Folks just call me Scarecrow.”
I nodded and seeing that the bacon was ready to be turned I used my knife to turn it and then pulled the pan out of the fire to cool. Now eating has always been serious business to me. I could tell that Scarecrow took it serious too. So we settled down to eating the bacon and drinking coffee.
After we had finished off the bacon I poured a cup of coffee then leaned back against my pack and the old timer did the same. We talked about places we had been and things we had seen in our travels. Scarecrow had actually been to the other side of the mountains known as the Grand Teton. He had traded there with the Shoshone, Blackfoot and Flathead tribes.
Now I may never get to the Teton Mountains but I listened intently. For each of us is a map to places we have never been. Scarecrow was very good with descriptions. I knew from the way he described things that I could go there and find the places that he told me about. He described landmarks, watering holes, game trails and the animals. From his descriptions I felt almost like I had been there. We passed the day talking about what we had done and dreams we had. I don’t know why but I told him about my valley and my dream of settling there. He listened and didn’t say anything. I knew though that he was filing the information away in case he ever needed it.
Soon it was dark and I put out the fire and we turned in. In the morning I woke before Scarecrow and decided to leave before he woke. I had packed away everything the night before and was ready to go. I had put a side of bacon and a pound of coffee already ground on the top of my pack. I placed them where I knew Scarecrow could find them and then shouldered my pack. I set off at a quick stride hoping to make up some of the time I had lost the day before.
I was headed to my valley and I longed to get there. The sun came up and the birds were singing. My heart was light and I enjoyed travel. I always had. My mother said I got that from my father, the wanderlust. I had always loved going new places exploring and the finding of things. I put about twelve to fifteen miles between me and my last camp before I started looking for a place to spend the night.
I soon found a place that was out of the way under a tree’s roots. The tree had blown down in a storm and pulled up a big piece of ground that made almost like a small cave. I used a stick to make sure there were no varmints in the leaves that had accumulated in the hollow. Satisfied I would be spending the night alone I crawled down in and put my pack down. I lay down as I was not hungry and pulled some of the leaves over me to keep me warm in the night. I soon was fast asleep.
I awoke at my usual time just before dawn. I listened for the tell tale sounds that let me know all was well. I stretched and stood up as much as my shelter would let me. When I crawled up to ground level there in front of me was a small packet on the ground. Now, how in the world had someone gotten this close to me without my hearing them? How in the world had someone even found me in the dark? I had been pretty well concealed with the leaves. I reached down and picked up the buckskin wrapped package. In it was some rabbit and pan biscuits. In charcoal on the buckskin was a message “Obliged for them vittles. If you ever need me send a message to the Chippewa village I told you about near the Teton Mountains, Scarecrow.” Well that settled the matter of breakfast. I wonder how the old timer had found me in the dark. Next time I saw him I would have to ask.
I set off at my normal pace. I would still need about three more days to reach my valley. Those days seemed to pass slowly. I guess the anxiety I had made them just seem longer. Finally, I came to wall that would lead me home. I was following the wall towards the crack when I heard voices.
Now being a careful man, I hid my pack and just taking my rifle decided to see what these people were doing near my valley. I followed the sound of their voices and then the smell of their smoke. I knew that these had to be tenderfeet. A man who lived his life in the woods knew that voices carried a lot further than one would expect. He also knew to burn dry wood. From the smell of it these pilgrims were burning damp wood if not green.
As I got closer I could hear distinct voices. Then something stopped me dead in my tracks. I could hear the sound of at least two women’s voices. Now we were days from any civilization. No man in his right mind would bring a woman this far out. At first I was just going to say howdy, but now I was really suspicious. I sneaked as close as I could to the camp. I was on a little ridge above the camp when I looked down into a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno.
There were five men that I could see. Then there were the two women. One was naked and laying face down over a log. She was the first female I had heard. She was crying and pleading.
“No more please, No more please,” she was crying over and over again as she was being violated by the man behind her.
The other woman was also naked and being violated. She was being held down by two men and the third was between her legs. She still had some fight left in her. She was screaming and struggling to throw the man off of her. The fifth man was sitting by the fire drinking a bottle of whiskey. All the men were in some state of undress.
I backed off the ridge and made my way back to the place I had hidden my pack. My blood was boiling. There was a terrible rage building up inside of me. I could not stand idly by while these animals committed these heinous acts on those women. I reached in my pack and pulled out two pistols. I didn’t carry them because of the awkwardness. They were a matched pair of Trapper fifty caliber pistols. I used them because they were extremely accurate. I made sure I loaded both and stuffed them behind my belt. I also pulled a tomahawk out of my pack and stuck it in my belt at my back. I also had my knife strapped on. I was now ready to do battle.
I retraced my route back to the camp. I looked down at the scene again. The one woman was just draped over the log where the man who had used her left her. He had joined his friend with the whiskey at the fire. The other woman was not struggling any more. She appeared to be unconscious. That didn’t stop the men though from having their way with her. The man between her legs stopped his movement and stood up. I took that moment to ensure that that was the last pleasure he ever experienced. I lined the sight of my Hawkins on him and slowly took up the slack in the trigger. The big gun boomed and I didn’t even wait for the smoke to clear. I knew my shot was true. I jumped up dropping the gun. I was on a full run down the hill to the camp. As I was running I pulled the two pistols from my belt.
The men at the camp were still trying to figure out what had happened. Before they could I was among them. I knocked the man over that had been drinking whiskey when I first came upon the camp. I lowered my right hand gun so that it was pointing at one of the men that had been holding the woman down. I squeezed both triggers and felt the pistol buck against my hand. I dropped it and while bringing the other pistol in line with the other man that had been holding the woman down I reached behind me and pulled out my tomahawk.
I fired my left hand gun and saw with satisfaction the bullet take him in the throat. I dropped it and pulled my knife from its sheath. I turned and faced the other man that had been at the fire. I saw that the first man I had run into had landed in the fire he was running around trying to put the flames out. His hair was burning reminding me of a candle. The other man was trying to get his rifle up and aimed at me. I let go with my tomahawk and saw it embed itself in his chest. The man dropped his rifle and stared down at the protrusion. He reached up and touched the handle of the axe and slowly sank to his knees and fell over. The man that had been on fire was lying on the ground. He had managed to get most of the fire out before he passed out.
I slowly turned a full circle examining my handiwork. All the men were dead or almost there. Neither of the women had moved during the entire fight. I went over to the one who was laying face down over the log. I slowly turned her over and gasped. Her face had been brutally beaten. She was almost unrecognizable as anything human. I walked over to the bedding the men had laid out and grabbed a couple of blankets. I walked back and covered her up. I noticed that her body was covered in bruises and welts where the men had tortured her. I started to get angry all over again. I wanted those men to be still alive so I could kill them again.
I stood and walked over to the other woman. She was still unconscious. She had been beaten and tortured like the other, but her face was not so badly beaten. I covered her with the other blanket I had picked up. I recovered my weapons and reloaded them then cleaned the blood from my tomahawk. I found a shovel among the dead men’s things, and went off some distance to dig a hole. I stripped what was useful from their bodies and then drug them to the hole. Once I had all five men in the hole I stood there with shovel in hand and looked down at them. What a waste of life. Not the fact that I killed them, but the fact that they took what the good Lord gave them and squandered it. I said no prayer nor did I say any words. I just buried them and covered the mound with rocks.
When I returned, the women were still passed out. I took the guns and equipment I had put aside and looked it over. It could all stand some cleaning and care, but most was of good quality. I lay it aside to be taken care of later. I pulled the fire they had going apart and then buried the ashes. I started water to boiling in a Dutch oven I found amongst the things. I started to tear some of the cleaner clothes I found into strips and burned the rest. The women would need care when they came to.
I set about making camp I knew I would be here for several days before the women recovered enough for me to take them back where they came from. I started a stew from some of the food the rapists had brought. I also went and filled the canteens with fresh water from a nearby stream. The water was boiling when I came back. I took it and some of the bandages I had torn earlier over to the first of the women.
As carefully as I could I started to clean the grime and blood away from her face. From the looks of it she would lose the sight in one eye from the beating she had received. I got as much of her face cleaned up as I could. I would let the rest of her body to be cleaned when she was able to do it herself. I moved over to the next woman and repeated the process. Suddenly she came awake in my arms and struggled to get away.
“Shhh, Shhh, easy there,” I said while maintaining my grip around her.
She struggled some more. “I won’t hurt you. The men that did are gone. I am just trying to help.”
She stopped struggling and I relaxed my grip on her just a little.
“Here” I said as I set the water and cloths down beside her, “You can clean your self up if you want.”
I carefully released her and backed away. I took one of the hot clothes and went back to the first woman. I carefully placed it on her face. The heat would work on her face and ease the pain.
I returned to the fire and looked after the stew. I spooned some of the stew onto a plate and grabbed one of the canteens. As I walked back to the woman who was awake she gathered the blanket around herself and backed up till she came to rest against a tree. I approached till I was a step away and set the food and water down at her feet.
“Try to eat something. You have been through an ordeal and you need to give your body something to help heal,” I told her speaking softly.
I backed away and went back to the fire. I spooned some of the stew onto another plate and started eating. I had made sure that there were no big pieces of meat and that the stew was mostly broth and vegetables. From the look of the women’s faces chewing would be a problem for a while.
Soon I heard the woman move and pick up the plate and canteen. I didn’t turn around because I was afraid that I would startle her. I listened as she drank from the canteen thirstily. Then she started in on the stew. I continued to eat slowly wanting to give her time to finish. I heard a sound come from her general direction. When it repeated itself I turned slowly around. She had finished the stew and was holding the plate out in my direction.
“Would you like some more?”
She nodded her head and I stood up. She set the plate down and backed away. I walked over and picked up her plate and went back and filled it up again. I walked back over, set the plate down and backed away to the fire again.
I watched her move forward to pick up the plate. Her eyes never left me the whole time she moved. She reminded me of a dog I had seen once. It had been kicked and beaten so often it would jump anytime anyone said so much as boo. This woman looked ready to bolt at any moment. I decided to talk to her. I told her my name and where I was from. What I was doing out here and just things in general. The sound of my voice seemed to calm her some. She finished the stew. I asked if she wanted more and she just shook her head no.
“Would you like to tell me what happened?”
She just shook her head no. She then buried her face in her hands and began weeping. I stepped to help her and she jumped as if shot. She scuttled back like the crabs I used to see on the sea shore, until she was against the tree again.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” I told her holding my hands out.
I then got an idea I walked back to the fire and picked up one of the pistols I had retrieved from the rapists. I checked to make sure it was loaded and ready to fire. As I walked back towards the woman she frantically started looking for a place to bolt to. She looked sure that I was going to kill her now.
“I’m not going to hurt you I just wanted to make you feel safer.” I laid the pistol down a couple of feet from her.
I backed away and sat down on the log by the fire. She looked at me for a minute as if I was trying to trick her. She slowly crept forward watching me the whole time. She slowly closed her hand around the pistol and then moved back to her tree. She looked the pistol over and seemed to know what she was about. She checked to make sure there was a primer on the nipple and that there was no outward damage that would prevent it from firing. Seeming satisfied she placed the pistol in her lap and sat there looking at me.
She seemed to finally come to a decision. “My name is Elizabeth Geiser we were taken five days ago from a settlement southeast of here. Anna and I were out picking berries for some pies we intended to make for a party.”
Looking over at the other girl she said, “How is she?”
“She is pretty beat up they worked her face over pretty good. Then I don’t know what other damage was done while they were…..”I left the rest unsaid.
“Anna was always the frail one. She loved to make clothes and plan parties and such. I was always the Tom boy. I enjoyed working with my hands and exploring,” she continued. “They came upon us and bound and gagged us before we knew what was happening. They didn’t touch us till we got here. Some of them wanted to, but the leader said not till we were far enough away that nobody would hear our screams. Looks like they didn’t take us far enough,” she said as she looked back up at me.
“Normally they would have been right. I was just on my way somewhere when I heard Anna’s screams. When I saw what was happening I just couldn’t stand by and let it continue.”
“There were five of them. What made you think you could take all of them? Wouldn’t it have been better to go get help?”
“Nearest help is three days away. Do you think you could have lasted a week of them doing what they were doing? They would have probably tired of you by then and killed you. Is that what you would rather have had me do?” I was getting a little irritated at how ungrateful this woman was.
“Maybe it would have been better if you had let them kill us. We can’t go back to our families now. Not after what has happened. What kind of man would marry us?” she said breaking down and weeping.
I walked over to her and this time she didn’t move. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. She leaned into my chest and the dam burst.
She wept for a long time and finally fell asleep against my chest. Sleep was the best thing for her, so I let her. Anna started to make moaning noises. I slowly got up lowering Elizabeth to the ground and walked over to her. She was thrashing in her sleep and crying out. I put the blanket a little closer around her hoping to stop her from hurting herself. I checked the cloth on her face and the swelling was down a little. I dampened it again and replaced it. When I stood up I looked over at Elizabeth and she was lying there looking at me.
“You a good and kind man Sampson,” she said before falling back asleep.
I went over and sat by the fire. Now I never have considered myself that way. I just didn’t like to see people use their strength or power to bend others to their will. When I saw a wrong it wasn’t in me to just stand by without trying to help in some way. My father had instilled that in me not only by word but by example. Like what he had done for Grandma Jenkins. He didn’t need to help her but he saw something that was wrong and it was in his power to right it. He did so in the only way he knew how. He didn’t ask why someone else didn’t help her or why she didn’t find some way to get out of her predicament. He saw and he did what was needed. I admired my father for that. I tried my whole life to be like him.
I put the stew aside hoping that Anna would take some later. I doubted it though so I put on some water to make a broth from some of the jerky I had. It would probably be the only thing she could get down with her face like as it was. Then I picked up the weapons I had gathered from the men I had buried. It was quite an assortment. There were half a dozen knives in various sizes. I took out my stone and honed them to razor sharpness. Then I applied a slight coating of oil to prevent them from rusting.
Next I started in on the rifles. There were five total. The first was a Canton Bern Swiss rifled musket converted to percussion sometimes called a Genie Gewehr. There were two Pennsylvania Flintlocks and a model I didn’t recognize that had been converted to use percussion. The last rifle was a twin for my St. Louis Hawkins. I cleaned that one with care and set it beside my own. I would keep that one and sell the others at a trading post when I got the chance.
I then turned my attention to the pistols. Of these there were ten. Two were a set of Kuchenreuter Traveling pistols. Old and worn they were of little value. There was Parker .50 caliber percussion. The others were odds and ends but for one. It was one of the new Patterson revolving Pistols. It was a .36 caliber and all the equipment necessary to reload was with it. I wondered where they had stolen this from. There were even the molds for making more bullets. It took me a little while to find the trigger. It had a folding trigger. I worked with the gun for a little while getting a feel for it. It held five shots. So it was like having five different pistols. This would be a definite advantage in a prolonged fight.
I cleaned the Parker as it was the same caliber as my other pistols. I then reloaded it and stuck it behind my belt. I took the Patterson and unloaded it and cleaned it thoroughly. I then reloaded it and stuck it in my belt at my back. It felt a little awkward there but it would do until I found a better way to carry it.
I took one last look around camp making sure I had not forgotten anything. I could see nothing that would not wait till morning. I went back to where I had stored my pack and brought it back to the camp. The women were still sleeping. I refreshed the cloth on Anna’s face. With everything done I settled down with a book as there were still a couple hours of daylight left. It was Homer’s Iliad. I had always been curious about it and had made up my mind to read it on this trip.
When it got too dark to read I carefully put my book away and got up to check on the women. I refreshed the cloth on Anna’s face. Elizabeth had thrown her blanket off so I carefully, trying not to wake her, put it back over her. I then returned to my bedroll and lay down. The last thought I had before I fell asleep was, “What if they don’t want to go home?”
I awoke, listened and heard nothing out of the ordinary. I sat up and looked over at the women. They were still asleep. I got the fire going again and sat a pot of water on to boil. I took care of my morning absolutions and when I got back the water was boiling. I added the coffee. I then put the frying pan on and sliced bacon into it. I put the broth back on to heat and then put the stew on and made up some biscuits. I put these on top of the stew and put the Dutch oven back into the fire.
I looked over at the women I would have to awaken them soon. It was not a good idea to stay here too long. I know Anna and Elizabeth needed time to recover. There was just something telling me to leave as soon as I could. I walked over to Elizabeth. I kept a little distance and called her name softly. She came instantly awake. It took her an instant to orient herself. Then she saw me standing there.
“It’s time to get up. I have food over at the fire and hot coffee,” I told her in a soft voice.
She nodded and pulled the blanket around herself. She rose unsteadily to her feet. I thought for a second she was going to fall over. She regained her balance though and walked over to the fire. She sat on the log that was there, clutching the blanket closed around her. I didn’t know what I was going to do about clothes for them. What they had been wearing was in tatters and had been cut off of them. The clothes that I had saved would have to do. I would have to clean them before I could let these women wear them. I still didn’t know what to do about shoes.
I followed her to the fire and picked up a plate. I put some of the bacon and stew on it and sat a biscuit on the side. I put a splash of cold water into the coffee and poured her a cup. I sat it beside her on the log. She quietly ate and drank the coffee. At times she would stare into the fire as if her future was written there.
“I thought once you had eaten you could wake up Anna. I didn’t want to scare her more by waking her up and her seeing a strange man. She would think the nightmare was still continuing.”
“Ok,” was all she said looking at me oddly.
I filled another plate and cup and sat it on the log beside her to take to Anna. I then filled one for myself. We sat there eating quietly, neither one of us sure what to say to the other. When she was finished she got up and walked over to her friend. She called her name, but received no response. She knelt down next to her and gave her a light touch on the shoulder softly speaking her name again.
“No, don’t hurt me any more please!” Anna called out.
“No Anna it’s me Beth.”
“Oh, Beth, I had the worst nightmare. I dreamed we were carried of by a bunch of men. And that they did terrible things to us, Wait, why can’t I see? Beth I can’t see,” Anna said as she reached up and pulled the cloth from her face.
“Easy Anna, Easy,” Beth said as she sat down the food and stopped Anna’s hands. “Anna it wasn’t a dream. It all happened. We are safe now though. A man rescued us and killed the men who were hurting us.
"Oh Beth I hurt all over and I can’t see out of my left eye at all and only a little out of my right,” Anna cried.
Elizabeth looked over at me with a look of questioning anguish on her face. I could only shake my head. How do you tell someone that because of another person’s brutality that they had lost an eye along with everything else that had been taken from her? Beth just hung her head looking like nothing more than a beat horse.
She turned to her friend and said, “It is only because of the swelling you will see well enough when the swelling goes down. I have something for you to eat. Can you sit up?”
“Oh Beth I am not hungry. After what they put in my mouth I may never eat again,” Anna cried.
“Anna you have to eat something,” Beth said looking my way.
I reached down and picked up the pot with the broth in it. I showed it to Elizabeth and motioned to Anna. Beth nodded her head so I picked up a bowl and poured some of the warm broth into it. I walked closer to her and she stood up. When she reached for the bowl she lost her grip on the blanket and it fell to the ground leaving her naked before me. I just stood there holding out the bowl of broth with my mouth hanging open. The whole situation must have hit a funny bone in Beth. She started giggling and then outright laughing. I turned my head and blushed cursing myself six ways to Sunday. I felt like a complete fool standing there staring at her.
Beth reached down after the laughter stopped and picked up her blanket. She fixed it so it wrapped around her. It resembled the dresses that I had seen the women in Africa wearing, when I had sailed near the Barbary Coast. She wiped a tear from her eye and took the broth that I was still holding out like some kind of idiot. She went back to her friend and sat down beside her.
“Here Anna at least take some broth. You need to keep your strength up.”
“Honestly Beth I can’t eat a thing. I will try some of that coffee though.”
“Ok I will leave it here if you change your mind.” Beth sat it on the ground beside her.
She then propped Anna up so that she could drink some of the coffee. Anna then lay back down and went back to sleep. Beth came back and sat down at the fire.
“What is wrong with her eyes?” she asked.
“Well the beating caused the one to swell shut. She should be able to see out of it as soon as the swelling goes down more. The other I’m afraid is damaged beyond repair. She will be blind in that eye for the rest of her life,” I told her sadly. Elizabeth dropped her face into her hands and began crying I moved over beside her and put my arm around her.
She raised her head a look of pure hatred on her face. I took my arm away and moved back.
“I wish those men that had done this to us were still alive. I would make them suffer the way we suffered,” Beth said her voice dripping with venom.
It was then and there that I knew that this was one woman you did not want to cross. I knew that even if it was with her dying breath she would have some measure of vengeance. I filed this away in the back of my mind for future reference. I stood up and moved to the fire. I gathered the pots and pans that needed cleaning.
“Here let me do that.” Beth said.
“No that’s ok. Why don’t you look through that pile of clothes over there? They are the only things available for you ladies to wear. Pick out something that will fit. When I get back you can take what you’ve chosen and go to the stream over that knoll and clean them and yourself up.”
She looked over at what remained of the clothes and wrinkled her nose. “I think I would rather wear this blanket.”
I laughed and she smiled. She had a beautiful smile. I took the dishes over the knoll and cleaned them using the sand in the stream bed to get them really clean. I laid them out along the stream bank to dry. Since I was there I figured I might as well take a bath. I still had the stink of gunpowder and death on me. I stripped and jumped in the water. I came up gasping for air. This stream was fed by mountain springs it was frigid. I cleaned my self as quickly as possible and then lay on the bank to air dry. The warm sun and the peacefulness soon allowed me to drift off.
“Oh My!” someone gasped.
I sat bolt upright and grabbed for my rifle beside me. I picked it up and jumped up. I looked around and saw Elizabeth standing on the top of the knoll with a bundle of clothing at her feet and her hands to her mouth. I looked around to see what had startled her and then realized she was staring at me. That brought home the fact that I was standing there naked holding my rifle. I dropped my rifle and picked up my pants. I held them in front of me and blushed.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered, “I just wanted to clean up so I took a bath and was drying off.”
“No I’m the one who is sorry,” Beth said as she blushed and turned around.
I took the opportunity to put my pants and shirt on. I picked my rifle back up and walked up the knoll in my bare feet. I stopped directly behind her and cleared my throat.
“I am sorry about that I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
She turned slowly back around seemingly relieved that I was now dressed. “No I should have made some noise to let you know I was coming.”
“I just wanted to wash these clothes,” she said kicking the bundle at her feet with her toe.
“I’ll just gather the rest of my things and head back to camp. Take your time” I told her.
She placed her hand on my arm “Please, could you stay? The last time I was alone you saw what happened. I am a little afraid to be alone right now.”
“Tell you what. I will sit up here on the knoll and watch down at the camp to keep an eye on Anna. If you need me just let out a yell and I’ll come running.”
She nodded her acceptance and picked up her bundle. I watched her walk down to the stream. Then I turned and sat down looking down into camp. Anna appeared to be still asleep. I could hear Beth working with the clothes. She was muttering something about filthy excuses for human beings as she attacked the clothes with a vengeance. I grinned visualizing her attacking the clothes as if the rapists were still in them. I could hear the sound of her beating the clothes against some poor defenseless rock.
It got quiet for a little while. I could imagine that she was hanging the clothes on bushes so they would dry. I then heard a splash and a scream. I spun around bringing my rifle up. There stood Beth in the middle of the stream with her arms crossed in front of her gasping for air. I turned back around grinning. I knew just how cold that water was and how much of a shock it must have been for a civilized woman like her, used to hot water and such.
After a while of splashing it grew quite. Soon I heard her coming up the knoll and turned around. She had used the blanket I had given her to dry off and she was now wrapped in another. With a shock I realized it was my blanket. She looked much better in it than I ever did so I said nothing.
“I am going to let those clothes dry there and come back for them in a bit. They were filthy. How could men live in things like that?” she asked.
I just shrugged. I stood there staring at her. She was very beautiful. I hadn’t noticed it before. Her dark hair hung down to between her shoulders. Her eyes were blue, the color of a mountain lake. Her skin that wasn’t bruised was tan as if she spent most of her time out of doors. She noticed me staring and blushed and looked down. I spun on my heel and headed down the hill to camp. The last thing she needed was some pie eyed man ogling her after the ordeal she had just been through. I wouldn’t blame her if she never wanted to see another man. She had gathered the dishes that I had left out to dry and she followed me down the hill.
When we had gotten back to camp, I took a quick look at Anna’s face some of the cuts appeared to be becoming infected as they were getting red and a little puffy. The red was radiating out from the center, a good sign of infection. I had to do something about that before it became worse. I had noticed some Fever Bush down near the stream. I told Beth I would be right back and headed down to the stream.
I cut several bunches of the Fever Bush and carried them back to camp. I stripped the outer bark off and scrapped the inner bark into a small pot. I rekindled the fire and as soon as I got it going added water to the pot. I cooked it till the concoction had reduced by a third. I took the pot off the fire and let it cool. I then took it and a cloth over to Anna. The whole time Elizabeth had been watching me carefully. I knelt down beside Anna and called her name. She didn’t awaken. I removed the cloth from her face. I dipped the clean cloth into the mixture and applied it to the cuts on her face.
“What does that do?” Beth asked.
“Fever Bush is used by the Indians to clean wounds and reduce infection. Anna’s cuts look like they might be a little infected and I want to head that off if I can” I explained as I worked.
“How do you know so much about Indian remedies?”
“Out here the Indians have learned to adapt to their environment. Unlike the white man who has done it the other way around. Indians have learned to use the things Mother Nature has provided for them. I have spent enough time around them and other people that have lived with them to learn a few things. Here in the wilderness you can’t go running to a doctor every time you get hurt. So like the Indians I have learned to adapt to my surroundings rather than die.”
She nodded her understanding. I continued until I had treated all the cuts. I then placed small pieces of moss I had also gathered onto the cuts to help draw the infection out.
“Now Elizabeth I want you to check the rest of her body and do what I just did to any cuts and abrasions you find.” I handed her the mixture and the cloth.
“Ok” was all she said and knelt down beside Anna.
I walked over to the fire and sat down. A little while later she came over and sat beside me. We sat there in silence for awhile. Suddenly a grumbling came from Beth’s stomach and we both started laughing.
“Not very lady like was it,” she said blushing.
“Nothing wrong with the body telling you that it’s in need of sustenance,” I replied.
I got up and started preparing some beans and venison. I also mixed up a batch of pan bread. I sat the beans at the edge of the fire to cook and I pulled out some jerked venison and offered a piece to Beth. She took it and bit of a small piece and started to chew. I watched as her face lit up and she bit off another bigger piece. She sat there chewing away as I watched her. There was a light breeze blowing that was taking her hair and blowing wisps of it out behind her like small banners.
I jerked my thoughts back to the tasks at hand. I leaned over and stirred the beans. Then I set the coffee back on the edge of the fire to warm. While I was waiting I took the Patterson out of my belt and examined it again. It was a well made gun. After I had looked it over I put it back in my belt. I took a roll of tanned deer hide that I had found among the stuff the kidnappers had left behind. It was one of three they had. I took one of the knives that I had collected. It had a slender blade that was almost seven inches long. Yet was only an inch and a half at the widest. It was perfectly balanced as if for throwing. I heard of these blades but had never seen one. They were used by Mississippi River boat gamblers. They usually kept them in their boot or in a sheath in their collar. Guns were not permitted at the gambling tables. Some gamblers carried derringers in various places but if they were caught they were beaten and thrown overboard.
I traced an outline of the knife in charcoal. I intended t make a sheath for this blade and use a rawhide string to attach it to my collar. You just never knew when you would need an edge. After I had the pattern traced out I used my knife to cut out the material. I carried an awl for working with hides. I was constantly making new moccasins as I was pretty hard on them. They were never intended for climbing over sharp rocks and such. I made all the preparations for creating the sheath. I cut a few long thin strips of hide. These I would use to make a string to hang the sheath.
About that time it was time to eat. I gave the beans one last stir and pulled them from the fire. I set about dishing up the food. Beth and I ate and then she took a plate over to Anna. This time Anna was able to sit up with Elizabeth’s help. She ate some but not all the food. They talked quietly for a few minutes and then Anna lay back down and went to sleep.
Beth walked back over and sat down on the log. “She wanted to know what we were going to do. Where we were going to go? She said that we couldn’t go back where we came from.”
“Well as soon as she is strong enough I would like to move on some. Get away from this area. I don’t want to have to explain what happened here to anyone. The fewer people that know what happened, the easier it will be for the two of you to go someplace and start over.”
“I know we can’t go back to the settlement. Our families would know something was wrong. Our friends would wonder what happened to us. Why we were gone so long. I know they must be looking for us. If I wrote a letter could you take it back to the settlement so our families wouldn’t worry about us?”
“Of course I would but what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet, we will figure something out though. You have done more than any one could have asked of you.”
I sat there thinking quietly. I couldn’t leave these women out here to fend for themselves and I didn’t have the time to take them to another settlement and get back to my valley in time. I didn’t know what to do. Leaving them here was almost certainly inviting a death I wouldn’t wish on anyone. They wouldn’t go back to their old settlement. As far as I could see that left me with but one option, I sure didn’t want to do it though. I had been looking forward to settling in my valley for a long time.
I wrestled with my dilemma all the rest of the day and through the night. I could see no other way. I would have to take them with me to my valley until I could take them to a settlement in the spring. By the time they were ready to travel it would be too late for me to take them anywhere else. I knew they would be safe in my valley when I went to get the rest of my supplies. Now I would have to get for three people instead of one.
This meant that I would have to purchase a horse or mule. My life was getting way too complicated. I had just wanted to live in peace in my valley in a home of my own. Now it looked like I would need a barn for the livestock. I would have to build a bigger house. There was no way that three people could live in the house I had originally designed, even if it was just for the winter.
In the morning Anna woke up and was able to eat breakfast. I fought with my dilemma awhile longer. When lunch time arrived Anna was able to join us at the fire. It was then I presented my proposal. I lay out the reasons I couldn’t take the time to take them to another settlement. I told them where I was headed. I offered them a place if they wished. I also told them if they were not agreeable I could take them back to the settlement they had come from.
“I don’t see any other options at this point. If either of you do please speak up. I am at a loss.”
“Would you mind if Anna and I talked it over?”
“No by all means. I know this is a big decision. I just wish there was something else we could do” I ended almost pleading spreading my hands showing that I was at a loss.
I got up and walked over the knoll to the stream with the canteens. I filled them and then sat on the bank skipping stones. I felt sorry for the two women back there. They had a life and then those animals had come along and ripped it away without even a second thought. I wish that there was something to do, some way that I could do more for them. They talked for quite some time. I heard them coming over the hill. Beth was helping Anna since she had not recovered enough to walk on her own yet. I stood up and waited till they reached me.
“We have reached a decision Sampson,” Elizabeth started. “Anna and I have decided to accept you most generous offer. We feel that there is no way that we can return to the settlement. As you pointed out we would not survive on our own. We just want it understood that we want to help. We will do whatever you need us to do. Anna and I are both quick learners if you are willing to teach us.”
I nodded my head. So this was it. I would now be responsible for not only myself but two women. I flexed my shoulders and rolled the muscle across them. Ok the decision was made nothing to do but to get to it.
“Anna do you think you would be able to travel tomorrow? It wouldn’t have to be far. I just want to start putting some distance between us and this place,” I asked looking into her eyes.
She thought for a second and then replied, “Mr. Wallace I will do what I can. I’m not sure how much I can walk but I will do my best. I want to get as far from here too but for reasons other than your own.”
“That is all any one can ask of us and the name is Sampson.”
“Now if you don’t mind Sampson,” Anna said, “I would like to bathe.”
“Not at all,” I started up the hill.
I heard some giggles from behind me. I paid them no mind as it seemed to me that women were always giggling about something. When I got back to the camp I decided to start to get things ready to move out. I used one of the hides and some birch branches to form a crude back pack. I put as much as I could in mine and then filled the other with the things I wanted to keep from the rapists. I put all the powder in the crude pack and the lead in mine. I put the best of the pistols in my pack. The rest I destroyed. I took a couple of the skinning knives and the gambler’s knife. I also took two others that were in the best shape for spares.
By the time I was done I heard the women coming back. I looked up to see them crest the hill. When they started down the hill I dropped my knife and it almost stuck in my foot. I was dumbfounded they were both dressed in men’s clothes that showed off their figures better than any dress would have. I just stood there flat footed with my mouth hanging open. Elizabeth leaned over and whispered something to Anna and she blushed and they both started giggling.
When they got close enough Beth called out, “Better close your mouth Sampson before you catch a fly.” This started both of them giggling again.
My jaw snapped shut with an audible clack and I broke my gaze away. This was going to be one very long winter.