Fire © 2018 Steven D. Shepard
Betty Ivey did see Doc Lanning and his team driving over the Texas Avenue Bridge into Bossier City. The son-of-a-bitch saw her too. So she quickly ducked under the cover of the canopy of the backyard trees so he couldn't see her anymore. After he was gone and out of sight, she returned to the back steps of Mother Ivey's house and tried putting herself back together. Her dress was a wet mess, so she got some water out of the well and tried mopping his spunk off her best she could. If she could have got into the house she would have tried to put on some of Clara's old clothes instead of what she was wearing. But Doug had boarded the old house up so tight it would have been a minor demolition to tear into it. She still had to figure out how to get home without meeting anyone she knew. She was very much afraid if someone saw her they would guess or know something had happened to her. Just by her look. She didn't know what to do about her assault right now, but she figured that could wait.
So Betty sat on the back steps, mopping the front of her dress absent mindedly and waiting. Waiting for what she didn't know. In her head, she was trying to deal with what happened. It was not like it was something she had never done before. But being forced to do it against her will with a stranger was not something she even knew how or wanted, to cope with. She was a little mad at herself for getting aroused by it. She knew that was something she was not supposed to be doing. The more she thought about it, she began to tear up. Then she began to sob and cry. The flood that followed was a hard cry. Quite unlike her and something she had not done for a long time. When the tears began to fall, it became clear to her that she was a victim of a crime. The Sheriff should be told. Charges should be filed. And that Doc Lanning bastard needed to be locked up and punished. Sheriff Dart would probably hang him. And that would be just fine. But the Doc was right. Betty would still have to live in this town. There certainly would be gossip and shame she would have to put up with until Doug came home. And oh my god, what in the hell was she going to tell Doug? It would just kill him. There was no way the man would understand what had just happened to her. She didn't even know how to start to tell him. For that matter, she didn't know how in the hell she was going to tell the Sheriff. How do you tell another man that she had gone into a peddler's wagon and the peddler had just forced his cock down her throat and maintain any dignity and respect? It couldn't be done. Not in Shreveport, Louisiana. They would probably run her out of town. And oh my god again, Sergeant Russell had seen her coming out of the wagon. What in the hell was she going to do about that? Maybe he didn't see her. No. He looked her right in the face. He saw her. Did he know? It didn't matter what Russell knows. She had no business in that wagon with that strange man alone. If she didn't tell Doug, the Sergeant surely would. Then what was she going to do?
All of these thoughts raced through her mind. When they joined the fact that she felt stuck on the east side of town, had to walk home and had not accomplished a damned thing she came to town for, it all occupied her longer than it should. By the time she came to herself and felt like she was thinking a little clearer, the sun was already falling behind the western pines. Sunbeams peeked through one or the other tree. She could see if she didn't get started soon, it would be well after dark before she got home. A married woman walking the road at night would be at risk again and another source of scandal. So Betty Ivey got to her feet, pulled her blue dress down to straighten it and noticed it was mostly dry now. She knew it still had Doc's seed in it, though it didn't show much. And she started the long walk home.
The walk through downtown Shreveport was thankfully uneventful. She didn't see anyone she knew and the few people still hanging around pretty much ignored her. Merchants were closing up shop and people who had finished their business in town were loading their horses or wagons to leave. It was almost eerie how normal and ordinary the town and the whole world seemed to be. People passed her by or disregarded her like nothing special had just happened. But how could they know? She figured she could never let them know. The scandal would ruin her and her husband. They would have to leave town. But the Army wouldn't let Doug just leave town and go when and where he wanted to. If these people learned what had just been done to her, she could never come to town again. Everyone would talk about her and probably condemn her for what happened. That was common. Women usually took the blame for things like rape. It didn't seem right or fair, but it was a man's world and she knew that is how it went. She had seen how men treat whores and women they thought were less than them. And their wives were even worse. It was more than she could bear. These thoughts gave fuel to her feet and she quick marched up Texas Avenue and out of town on the rural road to Greenwood. By the time she was on Greenwood Road, it was fully dark and she was a little frightened and concerned about that. Shreveport wasn't known for bandits, but you never could be sure. As she continued west, she thought she smelled smoke. She just assumed it was somebody's cook fire.
After Sergeant Russell saw Betty Ivey come out of that peddler's wagon, he chuckled to himself and shuffled back up the street to the courthouse to General Smith's office. The General's office was not the Sergeant's duty or station, but he made it a point to drop in on a regular basis to see what was going on. His uniform gave him access to the local news and scuttlebutt about the war that came to General Smith's office before it was allowed out to the newspaper, civilians and the rest of the world. It was how Russell kept his eye on the war and himself out of it. He usually got along with General Smith's staff, although sometimes they would get cross or short with him and run him off back down to Fort Turnbull and his station. But today was a good day relatively speaking and the staff was in the mood to talk. Russell took advantage of this opportunity in the course of small talk and asked if anyone had heard or knew anything about Captain Ivey and his detachment. The staff of two Lieutenants looked up from their writing at their desks with blank stares that indicated they didn't know what the hell he was talking about. It occurred to one of the Lieutenants he could ask what the hell the Sergeant was talking about, but he thought better of it. They both knew the man was a gossip and a laggard and getting engaged in such a conversation with the man would probably lead somewhere they didn't want to go. It distracted them from the work they were doing.
Russell took the initiative and volunteered that General Richard Taylor had dispatched Captain Ivey south on a recon mission to see if they could find any Yankees. This one sentence alone got the Lieutenants immediate and rapt attention. One of them quickly asked, “Sergeant how do you know this?” “Why Lieutenant, I heard the dispatch. I was right outside Captain Ivey's office when General Taylor gave Ivey the assignment. I just assumed command here knew all about it.” Russell lied. The Lieutenant leapt to his feet and issued an order, “Walk with me Sergeant.” Russell did so gladly as the Lieutenant escorted him to Commanding General Kirby Smith's office door. Knocking on the door and opening it, the Lieutenant stuck his head inside and said, “Sir, do you have a moment?”
General Smith had his back to the door and was staring out the window very officer like. His second story office and full length window gave him a long view across Texas Avenue. He enjoyed the view as much the weather would allow. His office in the Caddo Parish Court House was far more comfortable than the rough quarters at Ft. Turnbull. He often took advantage of that view to think deep thoughts about how he was going to defeat the Yankees and retire a hero. So Smith turned as slowly and regally back to the door as his old wounds would allow and pretending he was busy replied, “Of course Lieutenant come in.” The Lieutenant and Sergeant Russell came in through the office door, marched in step to the front of the General's desk and gave their best salutes. Smith acknowledged and asked what he could do for the two men. And the story about Captain Ivey and the Dirty Job Squad got told again.
General Kirby Smith listened attentively to what the Sergeant had to say. It was obvious the man was a snitch, tattling like a school boy. But it was also obvious that what he said was true. When the Sergeant finished his story with commentary, Smith sat there silently for while just looking at him. The stern look Smith gave Russell unnerved him some and it occurred to the Sergeant the General may be getting ready to kill the messenger. After a silent and uncomfortable length of time, the General calmly spoke, “Lieutenant I want you to get on your horse and ride out to the Ivey house and inquire with Mrs. Ivey the whereabouts of her husband. I'm pretty sure she would know and can verify the Sergeant's story or not. When you get that information, please return here and report to me. Sergeant I want you to return to Ft. Turnbull and await further orders.” The two soldiers glanced at each other briefly, looked back at the General and saluted. On the way out they did not speak. The damage Russell wanted to do had been done. The Lieutenant didn't really care to converse with the Sergeant any further. One way or the other.
Lieutenant Tim Causey routinely kept a horse tied up at the court house waiting on him. He had frequent needs to mount up and go run errands for the General. Today was no different. But it was late in the day and he would have preferred to shut down and gone home to his fine Victorian house in the Highland neighborhood. It was a bit late to be calling on someone on the outskirts west of town. Figuring his travel time out and coming back to report, it would be nearly eight o'clock before he got home. His wife would keep supper for him, but she would complain about him being late. It could be a problem getting any sleep with her tonight. As he spurred his horse into a gallop, dirt clods and dust from the crude city street flew up behind him. If the General was watching out the window, as he usually did, he would think his officer was making a determined and quick effort to follow his orders. But as soon as the officer knew he was out of sight of the courthouse, he slowed the poor nag down and let her walk. If Mrs. Ivey was home, she would be there. If Captain Ivey was already heading south, there wasn't much anybody could do about it. In any case, there was no need to get in a hurry. Causey decided that if he passed a store, he just might drop in to chat and see what he could get to chew on.
Betty Ivey kept up her walk in the dark. It was getting late but it wasn't really as difficult as she thought it might be. It was a clear and well used road. She knew Greenwood Road like the back of her hand. She had been up and down it many, many times. The night sky had come in and stars were starting to show like sparkling and twinkling diamonds in the sky. Shreveport didn't put out that much light and the more she walked the lights of the town soon disappeared behind her and into the cover of the trees. Greenwood Road offered just about the only clearing that allowed a person to peer up into the night sky and actually see the stars in a bunch. Most of the landscape hid that view under the tree canopy. That canopy and the trees started thinning out the more west she got. The landscape gradually shifted from the thick trees to fields of cotton that were either laying dormant from last year's harvest, or were waiting patiently to be plowed under for this year's planting. Scraps of unpicked and couldn't be picked cotton hung limp from the plants or littered the road where it blew or fell out of wagons. In the fading light, it reminded her of snow. Not that she had ever seen snow much. An evening chill started cooling the air and if she didn't get home soon, her stained dress was not going to be enough to keep her warm. But it wasn't too far to the house now.
As she passed Oakland Cemetery, she was startled to see Doc Lanning's wagon parked at the gate. Her heart jumped and raced and she felt a rush of anger and fear that the evil bastard would even be anywhere near her home. But even in the dim light, she could tell the horses had been turned loose somewhere and were not on the wagon. There was no campfire outside, so that meant Doc cold camped and was inside. Betty watched her steps carefully so as to not make any more noise than she had to. She made double sure she didn't step on any sticks or limbs that might make a loud snap in the night. The Indians boys had taught her that. With this care, she stopped and stared at the wagon. She wondered to herself if she could sneak up on Lanning and kill him. But she didn't have a weapon. The big bastard was much too strong for her. As she stood there and studied what she could and wanted to do, she heard the clop of a horse's hooves coming up the road behind her. That was odd. She had no idea who might be riding a horse out Greenwood Road in the night, but she also had no desire to be seen. So she slipped off the road through a ditch of weeds and into the cotton field. Walking up the dirt rows was easy. So she got as far away from the road as she dared so she could still see the rider pass by. She hid her face so no starlight would reflect off it. The rider was in no hurry. His horse plodded along in a lazy walk that seem to suit the rider just fine. Betty stood still in the cotton row so long her back started hurting. It made her wish the rider would hurry up and just go on. Eventually he did. She shuddered feeling the cold night air getting into her bones and she figured out there was nothing she could do about Doc Lanning right now. And she had to get on home.
About a mile away west of the cemetery, she could not help but notice a glow in the night sky just above the tree line. Simultaneously the strong smell of smoke hit her nose. The smell was familiar. All she could say was, “Oh no!” and she started running. She ran hard and she ran fast the last two miles. Her lungs and muscles screamed at her to stop and give them a break, but she knew not to. When she turned the bend at her top speed, she got her first view of her own dear house on fire. It was then the realization hit her she had left the candle burning in the window. Then she started screaming.
The horseman who had passed her was there out front of the house on the road. A few of the neighbors that lived within range had showed up with their servants and they were making a poor attempt to throw buckets of water from the well on the fire. But the blaze was in full bloom and the flames arced angrily up into the sky at least fifty feet. The heat seared at them and forced them back. Anyone could see it was not going to help or work. The slaves got shovels and tools out of her shed and they were chasing large embers and sparks that flew from the fire into the field around the house. They used the tools to stomp or throw dirt on the sparks to put them out so the fire didn't ignite the entire countryside on fire. Fortunately there was little or no wind. Nobody had thought to let the horses loose and the horses were racing around in circles in their small corral, screaming in concert with Betty and the dying house. When Betty got to the house out of breath ,she ran straight to the corral, opened the gate and chased the horses out. The horses ran in panic away from the fire and the strange people, into the night, never to be seen again. The fire raged even higher damaging and scorching the pecan trees that surrounded the house. All the trees were getting hurt and most of them would die from the blaze. Betty ran from the corral towards the house like she was going to rush inside and see what she could salvage. One of the neighbors saw what she was doing and he rushed her, caught her by the waist and dragged her away from the house and onto the road. He forced her down into the dirt and held her shoulders down so she couldn't get up. Betty put her face in her hands and just started crying. She cried for a long time. The house burned most of the night and eventually caved in upon itself. It was a total loss. There was nothing anyone could do.
The small crowd had stopped working the fire. It was an obvious waste of time. They all stood around for two or three hours after that and watched it burn. Almost everyone stood silent. The only sound was Betty Ivey sobbing on the ground. The fire kept them all from getting too cold in the March night air. Eventually Lieutenant Causey came to her and clumsily said, “Mrs. Ivey, come on and go with me back to my house. Me and the misses will put you up until Captain Ivey gets back.“ Betty never heard a word he said. She was much too lost in her crying, suffering and sorrow. When he reached out to help her up, she pulled away violently. Her resistance shocked the young man and he really didn't know how to handle it. So he backed off and let the woman be. A couple of the neighbors made similar offers and attempts and each and every time Betty pulled away. Finally she got tired of them bothering her and she screamed at them, “NO! Go away. Just leave me alone!” In confusion and sadness, there wasn't anything else they could do but honor the woman's wishes. So one by one they all drifted away and into the dark morning, back to their homes and their own lives. Lieutenant Causey was the last to leave. He mounted his brown horse and walked it up next to Betty. He asked her one more time to join him, but Betty gave him no reply. With a sigh, he gave up, mounted and plodded his horse back east down Greenwood Road. It was a damned shame and nothing he could do about it.
Betty stayed there on the ground all night in front of house, watching it burn. When she got cold, she inched closer to the hot coals of the frame and what was left of the house that had kept she and her husband safe and warm for so many years. It was like sitting with a dying friend. Dirt and grass collected on her clothes and in her hair, but she didn't care or notice. A part of her wanted to go back into the house and burn up with it. But she didn't. Her tears continued to fall, but she had no more sobs to offer her dying friend. When she sat up, she grabbed her knees and rocked back and forth, lost in sorrow. She couldn't even think anymore. It was too much for a human mind to cope with and when she felt like her mind was going, that was when she came back to herself.
The morning sun was making its usual return in the east. Sunbeams blazed through the trees, sending rays of light through the smoke and onto the scene of total devastation. It looked as bad as it was. The walls and roof were completely gone, but some of the large support beams leaned in on one another still burning and smoking. But as she looked across the floor plan where the kitchen used to be, something stood there dark and resolute. Much to her surprise, it was her old Thompson wood stove. It was blackened and covered in soot, but the damned thing stood there like it was waiting on her to come put it to work. It should have been covered in ash and trash, but for some reason it wasn't. She could see heat waves radiating off it just like it did when she had it fired up for cooking. She knew it would be much too hot to touch right now. But the stubborn black chunk of steel had just survived a house fire and it stood there telling her that if she cleaned it up, it would be willing to cook again. It was nothing short of a miracle. But not enough. It was enough to bring Betty back to her senses. She wished she was dead, but she was not going to die. Not today. She was going to stand up and survive this fire just like that damned stove just did. So she got up out of the dirt. She brushed the dust and grass off of her the best she could. She tried to straighten her hair, but the best she could do with it was to pull her bonnet back on to cover it up. She stumbled on her chilled, numb feet, because she had been on the cold ground for far too many hours. Then she turned her back on everything she had just lost. She started numbly east back down Greenwood Road, towards Shreveport. But she wasn't going to Shreveport. She was going to Oakland Cemetery.
Betty Ivey had little or no awareness of her walk back to the cemetery. Away from the house fire it was cold that morning. As she exhaled her breath turned to fog and her fingers and toes soon started to numb up and ache. She didn't even notice. She just continued her walk, determined and with purpose. In fact, she marched like a soldier on a mission. Which she was. When she got to the Oakland Cemetery Doc Lanning was still asleep in his wagon. He was in no hurry and had no place in particular to go. Cause the law wasn't after him yet. Betty climbed up the five wagon steps and opened the door without knocking. Doc was so heavy asleep he didn't even hear her come in or stir. He was snoring away in his cot. Betty walked up, stood over him by the side of the cot and put her hands on her hips. She looked at him briefly and sternly and finally said out loud, “What are you doing?!” The question woke Doc up in a start and he almost jumped out of the bed ready to fight. But he saw it was Mrs. Ivey. And she looked like hell. “Why Mrs. Ivey, what are you doing here?” Doc leaned up on his elbow but he had little sense about him. That usually required two cups of coffee. Betty Ivey glared back at him and said, “Wake up. We need to talk.” Doc knew enough about women to know this was never a good way to start any conversation. He tried to stare back at her but his eyes weren't quite working yet. He raised a hand to his face and rubbed, trying to clear them. Only then he was able to ask, “What? Talk? Talk about what?” Betty shot back at him, “We got to get out of here. They're going to be after both of us and you know it.” Even half asleep, this was language Doc could understand without coffee.
Betty turned away from him and went to his clothes rack. She pulled one of his light jackets out and put it on, then she asked, “Where's your coffee and supplies? I can make some while you fetch them horses. Folks aren't going to appreciate your horses shitting on their family graves.” This made some kind of strange sense to Doc and he was unable to muster any argument. So he pulled himself out of his cot and started putting his pants on. He pointed at a cabinet in the front of the wagon. Betty went straight to it and pulled out a metal coffee can. She left the wagon before he did. Doc finished dressing put his boots on and stumbled out of the wagon into the morning. Betty was gathering firewood. There was no shortage of that. Doc wandered over to the cemetery gate and started toward the horses. The horses usually came to Doc, but this morning they were grazing and getting what moisture they could off the dew in the wet grass. They kind of resented the fact there was no water and they let Doc know they were unhappy about it by ignoring and not even acknowledging him. They just kept on grazing and crapping. These large work animals could produce a lot of crap. Doc got just a few steps in and then it occurred to him he forgot his lead rope. He didn't usually harness up the horses until he had some coffee and maybe a biscuit. Mrs. Ivey had upset his morning routine and he was finally awake enough to resent the intrusion. But he would deal with her later. He turned back to wagon and fetched his lead rope. The horses saw the rope and they knew the drill so they didn't resist much. Hopefully Doc would take them to water so they could fill up. An animal their size could drink twenty-five gallons of water when good and thirsty. Today they just wanted enough to get started. The green grass in the cemetery was good for them. It was rich, sweet and had been tended to keep the place looking nice. The horses left their thanks in piles of waste.
By the time Doc got the team harnessed up, Betty had coffee made and she was squatting on the ground next to the fire having a cup. She found Doc's canteen and had already washed the dirt off her face and slicked her fine hair back. Her dress was a mess and that was all that could be said about it. She would deal with it later if and when they got to water. Doc strolled up and got his cup out. He poured his first cup in silence, then set the pot back on the fire. He turned toward Betty to take his first sip. Raising his cup to his lips he paused, then he asked, “Mrs. Ivey can I ask, what are your intentions?” Betty looked back at him hard and mean, considering her answer. Then she offered, “I got you figured. You're probably dodging the Army and the law. I expect your assault on me is not your first time to abuse a woman. You need to get out of here and now, so do I. We can't go east cause of the war. We can't go north to St. Louis because the Union is up there and there ain't a decent road to take from here through Arkansas. I can't go to San Antonio because my husband has people there. That only leaves the west and that means Santa Fe or Denver. You cross that border into the Texas and there's no law that can touch you. No matter what you done. And you can do worse than take me along.” She stopped with that, looked down and went back to her coffee. Doc was annoyed with how accurate and right she was. But try as he might, he couldn't come up with any argument with what she said. He wasn't in the market for a partner, but if she was going to make coffee and provide other benefits she might not be bad company. He could put up with a foul mood for a while.
After their coffee, they got underway. Doc lightly whipped the horses with the reins while Betty took up the seat beside him. There was room for both of them. They stopped briefly at what was left of her house and her reason to go to Texas became abundantly clear. Somehow, someway she had set that house on fire and destroyed it. She was too scared to face her husband with what she had done. But it was Mr. Ivey's loss and Doc's gain. Doc sat in the wagon seat while Betty went to the well. She dropped the top of her dress exposing her shoulders and breasts and practically took a bath right there, out of the well bucket. It would be her last one in a long time. Doc lit up a cigar and sat there enjoying the view. Betty ignored him. After she finished, Doc took her bucket and he watered each horse one by one. They were plenty thirsty. Betty practically yelled at him, “There is no need for that! We'll be at the Sabine River by this afternoon. Them horses can drink all the river water they want there. “ Doc heard the command in her voice. He didn't like it much, but he didn't give the horses as much water as they wanted. When he got the chance, he was going to impress upon the woman, the horses were much more important to him than she was. But that could wait.
They rode in silence to the west. Doc passed the hours admiring the scenery and whistling to himself. He tried to think about what he was going to do once they got into Texas, but he didn't know enough about the place to come to any conclusions. The most he heard about Texas was it was a damned wilderness and a good place to get killed. That part of the story was true. They got to the Sabine just like she said. Their west drive on the Sabine Road was clear and they didn't see any traffic on the way until they got to the river. At the river, the ferry was busy as hell.
The Sabine River never was a wide river. Historically it was considered the border between Louisiana and Texas. But with the US annexation of Texas in 1845, the Lone Star State declared the border was actually east of the Sabine practically to Los Adeas the abandoned capital of Texas. The two states argued over the border into the war and beyond. The Sabine River didn't care. The river kept flowing to the Gulf of Mexico like it always had.
In most places the river was deep and muddy. Too deep to ford a wagon of any size. Nearly blocked in on by sides by muddy sloughs and groves of trees that seemed to go on forever. Both sides of the river banks were blocked by trees and nearly covered in brush. The banks were steep, sandy and a good place to get stuck. If you got stuck, the only thing that was going to get you out was the next flood. Then the floods would wash everything away far downstream. But the ferry crossing was different. It started as a mostly level, long dirt ramp that led to the water. The ferryman and his son had clear cut and graded the soil road and the ramp themselves. The east ramp cut right by a little log house the ferrymen lived in. The house location kept them always just in sight of the river. So they could see customers coming and going. The flat bottom ferry was not large. Just big enough to hold a wagon and a team. It was tied to trees on both the east and west banks of the river. The fee was two bits to get pulled across. The ferrymen used ropes and pulleys to pull the ferry back and forth. And that was how they made their living. Crossing the Sabine wasn't wide enough to take a lot of time. But if there was any traffic at all, it became a slow process of waiting your turn, loading and unloading. The ferrymen had learned long ago not to work hard and fast in the heat and humidity. It just wore you out and made you sick. So they took their time and were careful in what they were doing. Loading was the most dangerous part. Some horses didn't like stepping onto the rocking barge of the ferry over water. It was not something horses were accustomed to doing. If they balked or jumped, there was a real risk the entire team could fall overboard and into the river. If the team was still rigged, then the whole team would drown. The ferrymen had learned that lesson the hard way. If the team was nervous at all, they would take them off their rigging. That way, if a horse did take to the water, there was a good chance it would swim and survive.
Six freight wagons of cotton and a crowd of Texas militia soldiers tied up the ferry today. The cotton was heading southwest down the El Camino Real to San Antonio. The militia was heading east, either to Shreveport or other assignments. The men were a motley crew with no uniforms, but they had their own horses and weapons. That fact alone would make them welcome to the Army of the Western Louisiana. While Betty and Doc waited their turn, Doc let the horses drink deep from the river. At first the animals hesitated tasting the red sandy water. It had a smell to it they had never sensed before. The huge animals bobbed their heads up and down deciding if they wanted to try it or not. But at last they did and that was a good thing. It would be days before they saw another river. Betty was the only woman in sight and she got quite a number of looks from the men crossing back and forth the muddy water. But she ignored them all as she sat on a stump mulling her troubles. She regretted the delay. It gave her too much time to think and worry about what she was doing. About what she was getting into. But she felt that after what had happened - getting raped, Jimmy Russell seeing her and her own stupidity of burning down her home, there was no way she could face her husband Doug with that disgrace and shame. He would probably kill her. Going back to Ruston was not an option. When her father found out what happened, he would shun her and run her off. Doc Lanning was a bastard and a criminal but getting out of state and into Texas was a way to escape and leave her troubles behind her. So she would use him. She would escape him later when they got to some kind of civilization.
When their turn came to load, Doc's team of horses stepped up onto the barge like they had been doing it all their lives. Doc just smiled and shook his head. He had never seen them so calm. The huge animals and Doc's gaudy wooden wagon strained the boat and made it draw low in the water. It was one of the heaviest loads the ferryman and his son had ever had to pull across the Sabine River. The ferryman said so. He thought serious about charging Doc extra. But the strange man was so big, he thought better of it. Doc paid the man in advance. And that made him feel better about the labor he had to expend to get the terribly heavy load across the river. When he and his son struggled at the ropes, Doc grabbed a hold and lent a hand. Then it went pretty smooth. Betty followed on board and stayed near the back of the wagon. She no desire to be near the men. Near the west bank, the huge horses tried to step off before the boat was tethered. Doc grabbed the leads just in time to stop them. When they were ready, he took the seat and drove them off the flat barge ramp like it was any country road. Doc stopped on the level west bank and waited for Betty to join him in the seat. He extended his hand down and she took it for the first time as he pulled her up and into the wagon seat beside him. Doc gave her a big smile she did not return and then he snapped horse's reins. They were in Texas.
There wasn't much of the day left. Betty and Doc drove due west on a dirt wagon road that had been cut through the Big Thicket pine forest years before by settlers and traders heading west into the unknown. Very few of them ever made it back that way again. The land didn't look much different than north Louisiana. The trees were still tall, thick and plentiful. Their canopy stretched over them like a roof and provided plentiful shade. These trees were a considerable barrier to any thought of getting off the road. As far as Betty could tell, they could still be in Louisiana. Everything looked the same. The team pulled through the trees and rolling hills. The work strained them some but didn't really task. The weather was sunny and cool and the shade was thick. Just as soon as the horses got winded on an uphill, pulling over onto the downhill side cooled them down and gravity helped them catch their breath. But as the travelers inched their way west things did change. The change was just so gradual they didn't notice. The further west they went, the less and less brush they saw beneath the trees. You couldn't drive a wagon into it, but a full grown man could walk comfortably beneath the stately glades if he was inclined to. The ground was lined with a thick carpet of pine needles that had laid there undisturbed for thousands of years. The only thing that interrupted this carpet of needles were flowering plants that burst through and up into patches of sunshine that managed to penetrate the arbor of tree limbs and make it to the ground. Closer to the ground, slim Dogwood trees were in full white bloom and they were so plentiful Betty would lose sight of one only to catch sight of another. The elegant beauty of the blooms stunned Betty further into a silence she had adopted already. The blooms reminded her of the legend she had been taught as a child that Jesus had been crucified on a Dogwood tree. Since that time, the tree was cursed and never allowed to grow large again. Inside each pistil bloom was a shape of the crucifix. Each sacrificial bloom seemed to be pointing at the road and straight at Betty. Further on, the landscape under the trees opened up, rolled on and was so clear it looked like a tended park. Animal tracks in the clearings and pine straw were easily visible from their perch on the wagon seat. A hunter could have easily followed these tracks through the trees to game. Red iron rocks appeared here and there and tried to be small boulders jutting out of the ground. These black and rouge rocks were draped in moss on their north sides and had weeds growing around their south bases. They looked like they had been dropped there and seemed out of place. Up into the canopy, fewer and fewer song birds were seen or heard in the trees. Crows cawed rudely when they were least expected and when they quit, the woods drew ghostly quiet and spooky. Surface water was nowhere to be seen.
Doc drove the team further than he wanted to. But he had to. The solid wall of trees on either side of the wagon road didn't offer any place to leave the road. The shade stayed thick and the sun was sinking low in the southwest sky. The coming darkness began to worry him. If they didn't find a place to pull over soon, they were going to end up cold camping in the road without a fire. Doc hated that. Betty understood the issue without being told. So they didn't discuss it. She joined him looking for a break in the trees where they could pull off. Finally, when it seemed like they were going to just have to give up and cold camp, a wide clearing appeared. Gratefully, Doc drove the team into the area and turned them around 180 degrees so they were facing back at the road. Doc jumped out of the wagon and started unhitching the horses. There was some grass in the clearing and he was going to have to hobble the steads to let them at it. He could have tied them all to a long rope, but it was better to let them feed if possible. He had no idea when they might get to a town and get the horses grain. It would him take a while to hobble six horses. Betty got out of the wagon and gathered wood. There was nothing to be had but pine limbs. But pine would burn and heat up food and coffee. She broke the large limbs by beating them on the trunk of a tree. She hated the sticky pine pitch and sap that got on her hands, but it couldn't be helped. No doubt Doc had some kind of alcohol on board she could use to clean the mess off. While Doc worried with the horses, Betty went into the wagon and did her first thorough inventory of Doc's food supplies. She was pleased to see Doc had salt meat and dry goods stashed in just about every nook and cranny the wagon would allow. They weren't going to go hungry any time soon. But he had very few pots, pans or dishes. If she heated anything up over a fire, they were going to have to eat it before she could cook anything else. That was annoying and something she was going to demand be remedied at the first stop. She took matches and an armload of food outside to her load of wood. She was grateful for the matches. She could start a fire with flint or fat rope. Her daddy had taught her. But it was no fun and it took a while. She grabbed and pulled at some dead grass and pine needles and set them in a coned pile. She then broke up small pine sticks into kindling and laid them on top of her cone. One match got them blazing and then she started piling larger broken limbs on top of the blazing hot kindling to get a fire going she could let burn down. When the big limbs started turning into hot coals, she used a long dry limb to push the coals into a frame that would hold her pot. She added meat, water and some poor dried vegetables to the pot and supper was going. Doc had plenty of army hard tack. When she got another pot available, she would boil that with some salt and that would make the hard flour edible and tasty. She might make hoe cakes out of that. Kneeling into the fire, the work was dirty, hot and hard. It made her miss her stove and she couldn't help but softly cry while she toiled. But they both ate fairly well that evening because Betty was a good cook if anything. She knew her way around a campfire.
Well after dinner and dark, they both sat on old blankets across from each other around the fire. Doc had brought a large red stone over for Betty to sit on so she wouldn't have to sit on the ground. But the stone was ragged and sharp and it hurt her butt. So she tried to pad it with her blanket. Doc laid out on his blanket reclined on one arm on the ground, looking into the fire while he sipped coffee. He thought to himself that Betty Ivey might not be bad to have around after all. He could cook for himself but he sure hated doing it. Sometimes he would go hungry just because he didn't feel like tending to the chore. Betty took care of dinner without even being told and she did a damned good job of it. As he entertained these thoughts, he looked over at the slender woman on the other side of the fire. She was staring into the fire also. She had a troubled and worried look on her face. She wrapped what blanket around her that she was not sitting on. Her femininity and tender lips showed through the flickering flame and her worry. Doc decided it was time to enjoy another reason to keep her around.
He threw the remainder of his coffee into the fire. The sizzling coffee interrupted Betty's train of thought and almost startled her. She looked across at Doc, into his eyes and saw the leer and look on his face. She knew what he was thinking. Doc got up slowly, strolled over to Betty and towered over her. He didn't speak. He held his hand down again and with a resigned sigh she took it so he could pull her up. Holding her hand, Doc led Betty back to the wagon. She could just make out the black profiles of the tall horses out in the clearing, feeding in the dark. It was so quiet she could hear them munching grass. Looking up, she caught a quick glance at the stars as Doc led her up the five steps. The wagon was totally dark and Doc had no intentions or plans to light a lantern. He led her over to his cot and they stood there facing one another briefly. Betty could feel his heavy breathing on her breasts.
When Doc tried to kiss her, she turned her face away. That was not what he wanted, but he really didn't care that much. His lips went to her neck and down her front to the cleavage of her breasts. Her rich, smokey smell did nothing but arouse Doc's passion and he started taking off all her clothes as they remained standing there next to the cot. Her clothes fell in a pile on the floor next to her and she seriously considered joining them. But she knew what she was getting into and what was coming. So while Doc undressed her, Betty reached over his back and took off her wedding ring in the dark. She put the ring in her mouth under her tongue, then Betty put her hands on Doc's shoulders and back and fed him her nipples. Doc bit softly into her breast meat using his teeth on her soft white flesh. As he sucked and pulled on her breasts, he reached down and tried to shove his fingers into her hairy crotch. He felt her lips which protruded outside the cheeks of her vagina. The folds of her lips discouraged any further penetration and he had to use his fingers to spread her wide to get into her. His finger found her primed and wet. She was ready.
Doc tried to push her onto her back into the cot, but she resisted and wanted none of it. Doc would come to find, he never would have sex with Betty Ivey missionary style. She turned her back to him and crawled into the cot on her hands and knees. Taking her cue, Doc rushed his clothes off, climbed on the blankets and got on his knees facing her behind, between her legs. His erection was way ahead of him and it reached up hungrily for Betty. Doc tried to jam himself rudely into her, but her lips caught the head of his cock and stalled him. He was coming on too hard and too fast. Betty had to pull away from the force and a girth she wasn't used to. His first jab was painful and she couldn't take it. Taking her body's cue, Doc slowed down, grabbed her hips and rocked himself in her to pry open her stubborn lips. As her lips parted, he slid into the moist mouth of her vagina carefully until she winced. Neither of them had to take hold of his erection from there. It knew where it was going. Even so, Betty did reach back between her legs and caught hold of the base of the shaft so she could control it. She knew sooner or later she was going to have to take the entire thing, but she wanted to work up to it. Doc pulled back and let her catch her breath, but each of his rhythmic jabs inside her was longer and deeper. He didn't leave her. Doc grabbed both her shoulders and then he got after it. He gripped her forcefully and stroked her vagina long and hard. As he screwed her, he used his erection to feel the soft flesh of her insides, then he rammed himself fully back in to the hilt. It felt like he poked her a long time. But actually it wasn't very long at all. She couldn't have taken too much this first time. He hurt her, in a good way and she let him have what he wanted. She considered not reacting at all and just taking what she was getting. But something inside her got aroused and she found herself thrusting her hips back at him with each bruising pump. She would regret it tomorrow, but right now her body was primed to fuck and she did. Doc rammed her hard and deep and he made each stroke count. He slithered his way over and across her pubic bone and pleased something inside her she didn't even know she wanted pleased. When Doc reached his hand around her to the front of her torso and grabbed her vagina that was too much. She arched her back and buried her head into the bed using the crude mattress to muffle a screaming orgasm. When Doc heard her scream, it fired him off and he grabbed the back of her fine hair in a bunch, yanked her head back sharply and let go into her. As he came Doc stopped pumping and just pulled her body tight to him and his penetration. He was spent. Much too soon. Doc slid out of her body as he rolled to her right to lay down on his side of the cot in a wet slump. Crawling away from him, Betty grabbed at a blanket that she held to the front of her body as she stood up from the cot and stumbled naked in the dark toward the door. She was wide awake, but her knees felt weak and she was shaking inside. She had to feel for the door in the dark. The steps out of the wagon felt much more wobbly and unsteady than she had remembered them. The bare skin on her feet reacted when she stepped to the cold ground. Chill bumps ran up her bare legs. After Betty got out of the wagon, she knelt down low on the dirt ground with her legs and crotch spread wide to let Doc's spunk dribble and drip out of her body onto the foreign soil. She still had her wedding ring in her mouth. But she didn't want to have any more of Doc Lanning inside her than she had to. As she squat there in the dark, she heard a coyote sing a lonely and long howl into the night. Much too close. That was how Betty Ivey spent her first night in Texas.