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Badlands

Badlands

Автором Richard S. Wheeler

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Badlands

Автором Richard S. Wheeler

оценки:
3/5 (32 оценки)
Длина:
487 pages
10 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Feb 24, 2012
ISBN:
9781466141605
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Candace Huxtable and her chaperone join an 1850s Smithsonian expedition searching for fossils in the Dakota Badlands. Although the daughter of a prominent British scientist, her presence causes much displeasure from the expedition's three male members. But she's paying her own way, and has ambitious plans.

Harvard professor Cyrus Billington Wood would prefer Candace help him unearth the bones of an ancient behemoth he finds. Doctor J. Roderick Crabtree is amused by her industry and pursues his own fossil hunt; while ethnologist Archimedes Van Vliet, usually in his cups, dreams of assembling a magnificent array of Native American artifacts.

Their guide, Rufus Crowe, a self-educated man of the wilderness, warns them that they are traveling into sacred ground of the Sioux, and there might be trouble. The scientists scoff--until they discover that Crowe is exactly right.

When first published 1992, this was Mr. Wheeler's top-selling novel. He has now published more than seventy titles, and won five SPUR Awards. This electronic edition is revised and condensed--and better than ever.

Издатель:
Издано:
Feb 24, 2012
ISBN:
9781466141605
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

Richard S. Wheeler (1935-2019) wrote over fifty novels and several short stories. He won six Spur Awards (for Fool's Coach, Sierra, Masterson, Drum's Ring, Vengeance Valley, and The Canyon of Bones) and the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement in the field of western literature. His series include Skye's West and The Witness. Before turning to fiction he was a newsman and book editor. Wheeler lived in the literary and film community of Livingston, Montana.

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Badlands - Richard S. Wheeler

admiration

Chapter 1

Candace Jane Matilda Huxtable wished she had loosened her corset before stepping off the edge of the world. The trouble was that man Van Vliet. Every time he peered at her from the drunken ruin of his face she had the impulse to flee to her cabin and tighten the corset.

A corset had always been a comfort. The fine baleen whalebone stays, diagonal in front and vertical in back, had armored her against the world, pinched a waist that didn’t need pinching and stiffened her back into a model of British dignity. And it made her impregnable, like Gibraltar. The stays, tightly stitched into the layered linen of the corset, were faintly visible through her summery nankeen, like the plates of a rhinoceros under the saffron cotton, a caution to the others who stood there on the hot bank of the Missouri River waiting for the deckhands to unload all their cargo.

Behind her, sweating deckmen eased the wagons down the wobbly stage from the deck of the Spread Eagle to the arid bank. The grimy white boat rocked in the muddy water, hissing steam from its escapement, belching smoke from its twin chimneys, a live monster eager to thrash the river again with its great side paddles.

The gentlemen on the bank eyed her politely, with blank professional courtesy. But Professor Wood’s stare was so frosty he probably had icicles in his beard. She wasn’t even one of them, although her father had been. They hadn’t invited her. The Smithsonian Institution hadn’t funded her. And worst of all, she was an unmarried woman, with a poulter-pigeon companion, in a wild land where women shouldn’t be.

She ignored that: she’d show them soon enough she could do this as well as any male, and especially any American male. She didn’t expect a hearty welcome and toast, but she’d come anyway no matter what they thought about it. Her father, Cecil Henry Huxtable—professor of Natural History at Trinity College—would have smiled, given his blessing, and utterly disapproved—just as he’d encouraged his rivals and ridiculed them behind his own walls. Knighthood had come only months before he’d died, a sudden recognition by Her Majesty. But ultimately, his reputation, his enduring honor in the history of mankind, would rest not on knighthood, but on Candace, who intended to complete his magnum opus.

Nothing had surprised her so far except for the guide, Rufus Crowe. She’d expected a lean ruffian in fringed animal skins—a weather-beaten, sun-blackened, scraggly-bearded, mean-eyed child of nature. Instead she found a slightly fleshy man in a worn tweed jacket that was leather-patched at the elbows; a man with even white teeth and curious blue eyes beholding her from behind small gold-rimmed spectacles. He seemed untouched by outdoor living. The dusky aborigine woman beside him was obviously his concubine and seemed unable to speak a single word of English, though she plainly understood it.

Mrs. Rumley, Candace’s companion, quickly formed her own opinion. A degenerate, she whispered. But she’d been saying that about all North Americans. Behind the veneer is the brain of an ape!

Mrs. Rumley, whose office was to ensure Candace Huxtable’s virtue and reputation, had a stare like glue. Her moist brown eyes, peering out from soft folds of white flesh, fastened like a leech to the object of her attention. If Mrs. Rumley were to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates, St. Peter would begin plucking lint off of his heavenly robes.

The upper Nebraska country was just as it had been described to Candace by the clerks at Hudson’s Bay headquarters down in London—a harsh brown land that would wither the soul of an Englishman. Its grasses were turning tan, a brass sun poked at her with malicious intent; a dry wind sucked the moisture from her flesh. She beheld a mean treeless land that would drive her to thirst in twenty minutes, blister her feet in an hour and starve her in a week. Oh, it was all of that. She’d learnt that before she got off the packet.

The ruin of old Fort Pierre stood up the slope—what was left of it anyway. The American army had bought it from the fur company in 1856, three years ago, and abandoned it almost at once, finding not enough fodder and wood there. They’d stripped it bare except for the stockade, and hauled the prized lumber and fittings downriver for the new Fort Randall. Now the ruined fort, half butchered for firewood, brooded over the flat like an abandoned castle. The party could have debarked at new Fort Pierre several miles north, but chose not to. It would be just that many miles farther from the Badlands.

She felt grateful to the lord directors and clerks of Hudson’s Bay for their advice. She brandished a sturdy cotton parasol against the hostile sun. She’d learned to snap it closed and stab it at the object of her derision. She wore, as well, a straw hat with a wide brim and a crown entwined with silk roses in magenta and orange. She’d had to take the steam railroad clear to Brighton to find such a hat, and bought it even though the roses looked like some Cockney version of high fashion.

And, finally, she wore green goggles. The summer glare, the knowing men of Hudson’s Bay had warned her, would blind her, drive her eyes into a tight squint until tears ran, give her headaches. So she’d tracked down a Portuguese oculist over beyond Christ’s Piece and dragged him bodily to Greater Saint Mary’s on Market Square, pointed to a stained glass image of shepherds and sheep, and showed him the exact shade of green she wanted for one set, and then over to the great gothic chapel at King’s College built by Henry VI, and showed him the precise blue she wanted in the other pair, a blue so azure she could bear no other. In time he had produced two goggles, cowled by brass and good harness leather and anchored with adjustable leather bands.

She wore the green one now, and found that it had a benevolent effect upon these Dakota wilds, staining everything greener, a little more like Cambridge, as if the glasses produced abundant rain. Normally she wore her thick chestnut hair in a severe bun, but she couldn’t do that and wear her Brighton straw or her goggles, so she’d plaited it into braids and anchored her hat down with two mean hat pins she meant to use on Archimedes Van Vliet if he ever came within three feet of her person.

Slowly the sweating boatmen unloaded the rest of the dunnage from the Spread Eagle, the American Fur Company riverboat that had carried them from St. Louis. While the crowded boat rocked gently on the turbid river, the rivermen led the six drays down the stage, the Smithsonian four first, and her own last. Theirs were nondescript draft animals of some mongrel Yankee sort but they looked sturdy enough. Hers were Clydesdales, seventeen-hand taffy-colored beasts with roman noses, white blazes, and feathery hair tufting down the back of each leg. Take the Scottish horses, the clerks had told her shrewdly. They’d fetch a fine price later in the States, and pull the wagon as if it were a toy.

A boatman handed the halter ropes to her, and she peered up through her goggles at the giant green animals, vaguely alarmed. She knew nothing about them. She’d intended to hire a man at new Fort Pierre. A slight tilt of her parasol set them rearing backward, yanking the manila rope from her gloved hands.

Oh, blahst! she said, going after the ropes snaking along the clay. But the apparition with the parasol seemed to excite the beasts all the more, and they sidled away from her even as she closed on them.

You shouldn’t say that word. You’re a proper lady. They use it in Billingsgate, said Mrs. Rumley.

Well, blahst!

Miss Huxtable, stop, said their guide, Crowe. She did.

A moment later the Clydesdales did also, and began plucking grass. He leaned over and gathered up the dragging halterstales, smiling. She took them gratefully. She knew she’d laced herself in too tightly to lean over. She would have had to tip herself over like a dressmaker’s dummy to pick them up.

So good of you, she murmured while he stood there somehow absorbing everything he could absorb about her. Mister Crowe, she said crisply. I don’t know how to harness them. You need show me only once and I’ll have it. I’ll never bother you again.

She did not miss the triumphant gleam in the eyes of the gentleman observers.

In a moment....I’m beholden to the ones that’re paying me. But I’ll work it out, he said with a soft drawl.

I’ll pay you!

He smiled, his bright eyes a welcome haven on this hostile shore. It’s not for me to say...But I’ll work it out.

A blast of steam from the ship’s whistle upset the Clydesdales, who wrenched their halter ropes. But she hung on. The Spread Eagle came alive, snorting like some prehistoric dinosaur. Deckhands wrestled the stage onboard while others unwound hawsers from the posts jammed into the bank. Ruffians crowded the rail as the packet drifted loose and lost ground in the desultory current. And then its paddlewheel bit the river, and the packet bulled upstream, destined for Fort Berthold and Fort Union.

They watched it wrestle the treacherous river and finally lost it in a sudden hush. The last of civilization had vanished. She peered at them all, suddenly aware that she stood in a wild land of savages, drought, starvation, cold and heat. Her sole protection was the gaggle of scholars and professors she’d thrown in with.

How distant sweet England seemed. She’d braved the terror of an Atlantic crossing on the Great Eastern, the new queen of the seas, six-hundred and ninety-three feet long. She’d chosen it for safety: it had been built of iron and had two paddlewheels and a screw, five stacks and six masts rigged for square sails. It seemed so much safer than the smaller steam vessels put in transatlantic service by Samuel Cunard’s British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The thought of fire in the bowels of a wooden hull had given her fits. But the Great Eastern had crossed to Boston in two weeks, which Mrs. Rumley bore with great fortitude.

From Boston they’d taken a clean Mallory Line steam coaster down to New Orleans, then a gaudy palace of a Mississippi river boat to St. Louis in time to board the Spread Eagle. Not until she was on board and her steamer trunk stowed had she met her colleagues and learned the nature of her offense against science.

~~~

As long as they were on the Spread Eagle, Cyrus Billington Wood nurtured the forlorn hope that a miracle would happen: she’d come to her senses; or the Pilot, Bailey, would talk her out of it, or young Chouteau, son of the fur company magnate, would forbid her. He and his colleagues had adopted the perfect tactic: the entire trip up the Missouri they’d said not a word to her—a clear signal of what lay ahead. Should she get off the boat, she’d face more of the same for an entire summer. But the frosty silence had no effect, and here she was upon this alien shore.

It was dreadful! Professor Wood swallowed down the disgust that boiled up his throat. It’d never do to lose his temper. He never lost his temper, though this wretched business had driven him closer to it than any time he could remember.

They all stood silently, waiting for Crowe to harness the beasts and get on with it. An eerie quiet lay upon the naked valley of the Missouri now that the riverboat’s throbbing steam pistons and splash of the paddlewheel had died away. Had the woman no sense at all? Did she suppose, far across the seas in jolly old England, that this’d be a lark?

He was stuck with her and her chaperone. He couldn’t abandon them here. She’d forced the issue simply by disembarking along with the others in this wild place. And that’s how it’d been from the beginning, when that first letter of hers dropped onto his desk, a letter bearing a magenta postage stamp of Her Royal Highness Victoria, and cancelled in Cambridge. He remembered the contents vividly. She’d heard that Wood was leading some eminent men to the Badlands under the auspices of the new Smithsonian, she’d written. She wished to go along, and would do it on her own purse. She wished to complete her father’s great work, and the Badlands, with its vertebrate fossil trove, would be the key.

Of course he’d responded at once: no, no, impossible, not a place for women, and there’d be the matter of propriety, a lone woman with several married men. And anyway it’d do her no good. Field work was demanding, dirty, hot, and unsuitable for such as her. What’s more, it’d upset Spencer Fullerton Baird of the Smithsonian, who’d agreed to underwrite the party to the sum of three thousand dollars.

Of course Wood had phrased it all in the cocoon of cordiality, a proper academic civility (even though the woman was an interloper, without the slightest credentials), more for the sake of her renowned father than anything else. She did have a most distinguished sire; Wood granted that. But he’d made it abundantly clear that it was not possible, not even thinkable.

Much to his consternation, a few weeks later he found another letter upon his desk, this one announcing her intention to come regardless. He handled that with stronger medicine, of course. This time he got Baird himself, down in Washington City, to inform her in the strongest language that she would not be welcome; that the whole journey would be too hazardous; that the necessity of caring for a woman would gravely interfere with their field work.

She’d replied last winter saying she’d come anyway.

And here she was, an odd duck spinning her parasol and peering out at them from behind green-lensed goggles. He would have thought her a comic specimen, in her thick boots, nankeen dress, whited pigskin gloves, tawdry straw hat that stayed mysteriously anchored to her brown hair even when dust devils whirled alkali into her face; and twirling that ridiculous parasol, fringed at the edge with ivory cord of some sort—as if she and that dumpling Mrs. Rumley were going to a picnic on some village green around Cambridge.

How was he going to explain this to his wife? For that matter, how would Van Vliet? As for Crabtree—Wood peered at the man with quiet loathing—that bounder in the cream linen suit wasn’t married and would no doubt enjoy the scandal. There’d be scandal enough because he’d brought a slave with him, that wide black woman standing there. The poor thing lacked a surname. He’d called her Gracie. That was it: Gracie. And Crabtree had promised that Gracie would look after them all, cook food straight out of heaven, and see to their comforts.

Oh, the loathsomeness of it! The sheer evil of being served by someone in bondage, someone Crabtree would buy or sell like a dog or a cow. The infernal evil of slavery affronted Wood’s New England soul, and now he would be forced to enjoy comforts bestowed upon him by that poor wretch. He wished he could afford to buy her, set her free, rebuke J. Roderick Crabtree for his inhumanity. But it couldn’t be. He swallowed back his indignation once again, and smiled blandly. At least, he thought, the presence of the Huxtable woman would be slightly less scandalous with three other females about, although the third of that sex, Rufus Crowe’s woman, seemed to be a drudge, loading up trunks and crates and holding the drays while the fellow slid harness over them.

Wood, you’re taking it too seriously, said Dr. J. Roderick Crabtree. After she skins her knuckles a few times, we’ll employ her as an amanuensis.

It’s the propriety of it.

Oh, now, we’re two thousand miles from Spencer Baird, said Doctor of Philosophy Archimedes Van Vliet. When the cat’s away, the mice can play.

Professor Wood sighed unhappily.

Propriety kept a man civilized, he thought. He himself hewed to the old ways, even while the younger crowd pulled the world apart. Scholar he might be, but he lectured too, impressing generations of callow youths with the frightful importance of their biological pedigree. They must learn that the beast lurked within them! He wore, always, a black clawhammer coat on the podium, as well as his starched white shirt and high collar and black bowtie, none of it visible beneath his vast gray beard, all of it the hallmark of learning and civilization and careful inquiry. His manner had been aloof but benign. Let the acned lads see the exterior evidences of learnedness. Let them see the sort of soul that made a true scholar!

He didn’t wear the black clawhammer here, or the boiled and starched shirt. He’d worn some rather sporty tweeds—attire never seen by his rascal students—and he’d anticipated easy informality among colleagues, good talk around campfires, a certain relaxation of language. He’d relished that idea: around the Yard he’d always kept his tongue buttoned, and he’d supposed it’d be rather nice to, say, let it be known to those traveling companions, out here two thousand miles from Boston, just what he thought of those scamps Darwin and Wallace, or his doubts about Linnaeus. But she’d changed all that. If anything, he’d have to keep his tongue buttoned tighter than ever. He felt cheated, and glared at her.

And what was that formidable Juno doing? Why, staring at Rufus Crowe, as if she intended to learn his trade. There was Crowe, buckling all those harness straps to the dray, and there was Miss Huxtable, studying the matter like a freshman wanting an instant Master’s Degree.

Crowe buckled the breeching in place and then backed the brown dray toward the Studebaker wagon that held their camp gear and staples. The great animal backed easily, and stood while Crowe hooked the trace chains to one of the singletrees.

That seemed to be all the woman needed. She snapped her parasol shut with a decisive clap, stuffed it into her handsome wagon, and began dragging out a heap of harness. This she laid out on the clay and began sorting its parts. Wood, who knew little enough about such common matters, could see that her outfit had been lovingly made of good harness leather fixed with brass fittings. And then the woman sighed, peered about sharply at the rest of them, who pretended to look elsewhere, and lifted the collar and hames.

She was going to do the unthinkable! A certain thrill of malice crept through Cyrus Wood. She was going to lower herself beneath her station and do a liveryman’s labor! He had an awful suspicion that beneath all that orange nankeen she wore bloomers, and when she pried fossils from rock in the Badlands, they’d all see more bloomer than they wished to see. But maybe not. After hitting her thumb a few times she’d say something unladylike, suck on the offended digit, and that’d be the end of her digging.

He watched, mesmerized, as the Huxtable woman tried to slide a collar and hames over one of her taffy-colored Clydesdales. But the horse sidled back, stretching the halter rope that had been tied to her wagon.

Oh, fudge, she bellowed.

Tut, tut, tut, said Mrs. Rumley, purse-lipped.

That’s strong language. Do you suppose she got it from her famous father? asked J. Roderick Crabtree.

We’ll hear worse, said Professor Wood.

I should hope so! said Doctor Archimedes Van Vliet. Do you think she wears Amelia Bloomer’s pants?

I’ll volunteer to explore, said Dr. Crabtree.

She freed that awful straw hat from her head, stabbing it with hat pins she’d extracted from her hair. She dropped it into her wagon, and then tackled the harnessing again. This time she slid the collar on without a dab of trouble, and followed with the bellyband and martingale. Then, with an eye upon Crowe as he harnessed another of the Smithsonian wagons, she buckled on the breeching, and then tackled the complex bridle. That proved to be too much for her. The horse evaded the bit, and bobbed its head.

That’s when Crowe, a cheery traitor to his sex, turned his own tasks over to his squaw and helped the Huxtable creature to bridle her horse, patiently showing her how to hold the cheekstraps, slide the bit in, and buckle the throatlatch, free the animal’s forelock, and run the lines back through rings in the surcingle. Then he helped her back the horse toward her wagon and hook the trace chains.

It would be a ghastly trip, he thought. And more’s the pity, because he’d pinned all his hopes on it. If great reputation eluded him this time, at age fifty-nine, he’d sink into obscurity. The thought brought a great pain to his bosom, as he watched Mrs. Rumley settle herself on the wagon seat like a hen.

Chapter 2

Rufus Crowe helped the British woman with the harness, admiring her determination as he worked. She would be as good as her word: as soon as she learned how to do it, she’d never bother him with it again.

There, Miss Huxtable. Have you ever driven a team?

I’m afraid not.

I’ll show you in a bit.

I’d be grateful.

There’s some tricks and cautions.

I’m sure. Once I learn I won’t trouble you.

Perhaps one of the gentlemen could help.

I...don’t think so.

He’d sensed the barrier between them almost at once. She had stood apart from the others and not a word passed between them as they waited for him to harness and load. He wondered about it. He needed to know everything about each party he guided. Divisions, laziness, temperament were all dangerous in a wild land, especially with the Sioux so bitter about the encroachments of the whites, the loss of hunting grounds and the shocking decline of the buffalo.

This party promised to be difficult. Academicians were usually impossible. He’d rather escort a party of drunks or a party of thieves and jailbirds or a party of wastrels.

I believe we’re ready, gents, he said. We’ll do a few miles today and rest. Tomorrow we’ll settle down to it.

He watched closely to see what’d happen. By some previous arrangement, Professor Van Vliet took the reins of one wagon, and the South Carolinian, J. Roderick Crabtree, took the lines of the other. The head of the expedition, Wood, didn’t hesitate to join Van Vliet, and that confirmed Rufus’s suspicion that no love was lost between Wood and Crabtree. He waited for the rest. Crabtree’s slave, a wide, cheery woman named Gracie, didn’t join her master on the wagon seat. Apparently she’d walk.

I suppose we can leave, Rufus said. We’re going to follow an old road that runs from hear to Fort Laramie, easy all the way, water all the way except for one small divide between the Teton drainage and the White River. You-all spare your horses.

Tonight he’d instruct them. He’d found that pilgrims always listened better after experiencing some of the hardships of the trail. This shouldn’t be a hard trip, but greenhorns had a genius for turning the simple into the painful.

You southern, Mistah? asked Crabtree, the Carolinian.

Independence.

Crabtree laughed. Close enough.

He nodded to Toothache, He-yah-zon, his cheery little Brule woman, and they started the parade, walking their misshapen ponies across the flat and toward the confluence of the Teton and the Missouri where they’d leave the great river behind. He-yah-zon didn’t understand English, a situation that Rufus Crowe found much to his liking. He had not given her the name, but he found it appropriate. He-yah-zon cooked and kept house, such as it was, and provided him with tobacco and other pleasures, talked a streak at meals, and left him to his dreaming, which was his principal occupation. In fact the Brules, the Sichangus Lakota, called him Dream Man, and considered him a holy one, an impression he did not neglect to cultivate.

He peered behind him, wondering how the British woman was managing, and found that her Clydesdales had pulled her wagon smartly into line behind the other wagons. She’d eat a lot of dust, and probably end up a lot less starchy before the day ended. He wondered about her, isolated back there, rejected by the gentlemen. He’d find out soon. New clients were always a puzzle, but one he enjoyed solving.

The fur company had set this up and given him a two hundred dollar credit at the trading posts. Scientists, they’d told him. Funded by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington City. They’d dig fossils at the Badlands while he hunted and protected them; later he’d take them to Fort Union, where a keelboat would take them south in the fall, along with their fossils. Professors of Natural History. But what was the rest of it? Van Vliet. That one was an ethnologist along to study the Lakota. The flamboyant Doctor Crabtree didn’t possess a degree in the natural sciences, but had made a name for himself as an anatomist and dabbler in paleontology, and a cynical critic given to puncturing academic vanities in obscure journals. Crowe thought he’d enjoy Crabtree.

He nodded to He-yah-zon, knowing she’d continue to lead these pilgrims down a clay trail as plain as a turnpike, and reined his ewe-necked mare, letting his clients slide by as if he were a mayor reviewing a Fourth of July parade. They were plainly as curious about him as he was about them. As they rattled past, they eyed him politely—was any academic capable of any conduct other than politeness? Why, a professor would commit polite murder if it came to it.

Crowe, you’re not what you seem, said Crabtree as he steered past, mock in his resinous eyes.

The guide nodded slightly. He watched the sweating black woman shuffle along, prevented by her station from enjoying the seat with her master.

Wood and Van Vliet rattled past, smiling toothily at him.

As they would to a freshman, he thought. He nodded, peering over his gold-rimmed half-spectacles at them.

When the Englishwoman drew up, he turned his mare and fell in with her.

It’s a splendid wagon, he said, eyeing the masterful bit of coachwork, lacquered olive with red trim and gilt, and reinforced with brass furniture. And harness, he added.

Mister Crowe, it’s the best I could buy. Everything’s the best. They told me I’d need it. It might save my life. Were they right?

One can usually make do.

We’re so far from everything. The whole world stopped at the river.

Crowe shrugged. It takes getting used to. He rode silently, knowing that she glanced furtively at him from time to time, as if wanting to speak even if he was beneath her.

How do you stay so—so pale? she asked suddenly.

He didn’t know himself. He rarely wore a hat, yet the flesh of his face and body looked as smooth and ruddy and youthful as when he’d escaped from Missouri seventeen years before. It’s because I don’t work. My father wanted me to work like a mule. He had a livestock business, buying and selling, and planned to make me slave to it. So I ran off as soon as I was old enough to steal his rifle.

She gazed at him from eyes full of doubt. You’re working now.

Oh, I suppose. A little bit now and then to buy shot and powder. Mostly I don’t. Work, Miss, pains me so bad I avoid even the sight of it. I live with the Sioux and have no need. The women work. Toothache works.

Toothache?

He pointed ahead. He-yah-zon.

Oh. I fear you’ve made a drudge of her, like that poor kaffir up there walking beside Mister Crabtree.

It’s her natural lot.

I’d invite her to sit here if I could!

Why don’t you?

Why—I just might.

He waited for more but she didn’t accommodate him.

Are we in danger?

It’s not the same as England.

It certainly isn’t, said Mrs. Rumley. It’s all heathen.

I imagine.

I wish I could be stronger.

It was strong of you to come, I imagine.

Miss Huxtable peered around. Will we see savages?

I imagine.

Will they—harm us?

I imagine they’ll try.

But can’t you stop them?

I can’t if they take a mind not to be stopped.

What’ll they do?

He couldn’t see through those green-lensed goggles to the fear in her eyes, but the strain of her voice revealed her dread just as well.

You reckoned all that before you bought your fare.

I hadn’t, she said quietly. I only wanted to do the work, I’m—ah, a bit nervous.

He waited. People often told him more if he just waited them out. He kept his mare abreast of her lurching wagon seat.

My father died before he could finish something important.

A book?

A hypothesis about the specialization of species and families. I’m going to try to finish it for him.

At the Badlands?

Yes. She steered the Clydesdales around a scatter of gray rock along a slope. See, I’m good with the horses, wouldn’t you say? My father was Cecil Henry Huxtable. He was knighted, you know. I’ve got to finish it. And do my own work as well.

What’ll you find at the Badlands, Miss Huxtable?

It’s worse than facing savages, sir. I hope to find out whether he was right or wrong.

What if he was wrong?

The green goggles turned directly toward him. A brilliant man’s life work will need my revisions.

~~~

The guide halted them at a rare grove of scrubby cottonwoods after only six or seven miles. The flat had been much-used by travelers, but it offered firewood.

I imagine this is far enough the first day. Just enough to accustom the animals. Tomorrow we’ll go the distance, Crowe said.

Dr. J. Roderick Crabtree tugged lines and then stepped easily to the dry clay, springing his legs once or twice. He wished to relieve himself but the women complicated matters. On the other hand it’d be far more complicated for them, he thought, amused.

Behind him, Wood and Van Vliet pulled up, and then the old maid from England halted that fancy rig of hers. He watched them all benignly, knowing he was going to enjoy the next moments. Great portents and decisions and large questions would be settled directly. He laughed softly, and plucked a japanned cannister filled with good Havanas from the breast pocket of his creamy linen suit—which remained spotless because he artfully chose to lead the caravan and avoid dust—and selected one of the thin stogies. This he licked joyously, pierced with his cigar pick, and lit with a sulfur match extracted from his commodious pocket. He sucked ecstatically and sighed.

Silently, his slave woman wandered down to the bank of a loathsome little creek and began harvesting firewood. She’d cook him a fine meal. She was halter broke; didn’t need a whipping and knew her place. He’d owned her for twenty years, and she knew his wants as well as he knew what to expect of her. In Charleston she’d been the housekeeper at his little nest off Tradd Street not far from the Ashley River. He’d always liked the spot, set in a riot of azaleas, because he could walk anywhere. And indeed, his daily stroll usually took him in a meandering trot past the Battery with all its ships and cargo, past the slave market, past St. Michael’s Episcopal church, the Dock Street Theatre, and over to the College of Charleston, where he maintained a teaching sinecure and an office. Whenever he passed St. Michael’s he was tempted to leave a fossil on the rector’s desk, knowing that piece of evolution insolence would be like a grenade. The temptation always tickled his atheist soul.

Gracie returned, bent under a load of sticks, and he watched her select a spot near the turbid creek to cook a meal.

It’s been a hard day, eh, Gracie?

Your big toe must ache, Mastah.

Not as much as my spine. A wagon’s hard upon the backbone.

You coulda rode me.

He wheezed joyously. Good old Gracie.

She grabbed an enameled blue teapot and dipped it into the river. Water in that no-account excuse for a river’s some awful. I think we all get the dogtrots.

Crowe heard her. It’s alkali. I imagine you can live with it. Let the water set a while and it’ll settle. There’s some call it the Bad River, and that’s a proper name.

Baaaaad Rivah, she said. I hope it don’ bother your frail and precarious and fossilized constitution, Mastah.

But J. Roderick Crabtree didn’t hear her. He was sucking on his heady cigar, expelling the fragrant plume through his waxed mustache and shiny black van dyke, and watching to see what would happen next. He didn’t want to miss a smidgeon. He eyed Wood and Van Vliet furtively, and then the old maid. He had a great affection for the old maid. She had to be upper twenties, but it was hard to tell under that battle armor. He had an affinity for old maids. They were like him, cynical about the opposite sex.

She stood there beside her matched drays, lifting the floppy straw boater from her glossy brown hair. Then she pulled her goggles free and settled the hat back in place so it could be a corset for her brains. She was a much-corseted female. Then she waited.

They all waited for something, and Crowe didn’t disappoint them. He unhooked Crabtree’s horses from the doubletree and stripped harness off. Then he led them to the river. The animals nosed the water around, distrusting it, but finally pushed their muzzles in and began sucking. Crabtree could see their esophageal muscles pumping water up their necks. Then the guide picketed and hobbled them on sparse grass upstream. Next he cared for the other pair of the expedition’s horses, and without pause he unhitched the old maid’s Clydesdales and cared for them as well.

Wood looked affronted, but that was his natural condition, Crabtree thought, enjoying the moment. Van Vliet had vanished downstream somewhere, out of sight of the old maid’s lustful eyes. Crowe’s squaw was unloading gear from his pack mule, ignoring the rest except for an occasional glance. But Crabtree focused on Wood. The chairman would begin the waltz.

Cyrus Billington Wood ambled toward the shade of the only cottonwood tall enough to provide any, and stood there like a king upon a dais—or rather, Crabtree corrected himself, a professor upon his podium, with the limbs of the cottonwood providing a sort of heraldry behind him. Wood’s beard grew so luxuriantly one could squeeze a bowl of soup out of it. He cleared his codfishy Bostonian throat several times until he had achieved a fine, commanding honk from the lower organ pipe of the scholarly esophagus.

Ah! thought Crabtree, a true scholar and gentleman, this Wood. Never a harsh word.

My dear colleagues, Wood began, addressing men not dear at all, and scarcely acquainted, Crabtree thought, except to belittle each others’ reputations in obscure journals. And Miss Huxtable.

Very good, thought Crabtree, the sheep had been separated from the nanny goat. He sucked greedily on his Havana, burning off an eighth of an inch in one voluptuous draft. The orange coals of hell, he thought, but why not? He looked like a Baptist version of the Devil, a facade he took pains to cultivate, especially with mustache wax, which he applied boisterously and then spun the tips of his facial hair into daggers.

I will proceed directly to the matter at hand, so that we can go about our business. Ah...Yes...Ah, we have a most irregular situation here. Most irregular.

Van Vliet appeared from downstream, doing something or other with his pants.

Miss Huxtable, your presence here was not anticipated, and I confess that until the very last, I supposed it would not really happen.

The old maid stood stock still.

It poses certain, ah, problems, not only for the members of the expedition, but for our sponsors, the Smithsonian Institution. It is certainly, ah, irregular to have ah, women present.

White women, Crabtree amended, enjoying himself.

Wood did not deign to answer. To make matters even more delicate, there is the matter of your credentials, Miss Huxtable, he continued. "If you had, ah, an advanced degree, why the world, whose approbation we count dear, might understand, provided that it was all done in the full and innocent light of day. But we have, of course, a situation that might excite scandal in the minds of some. Not ourselves, of course, but the waiting world back east, whose sharp eyes will be upon us.

I’ve given much thought to the matter as we’ve made our first progress this afternoon. I’ve wanted to do what is just and fair. I’m mindful, as well, of the distinction of your late father, God bless his soul, and in deference to his memory, I’ve hit upon something. I should like to hire your services. Why, we need a good cook and housekeeper, a laundress, a dutiful helpmeet. We’ll return to camp each day soiled and tired and hungry and thirsty, and what more noble office of womanhood is there than to have a spot of tea waiting, and clean duds, and hearty repasts? It’d enhance our work, strengthen our resolve on behalf of truth and science. You could make a great contribution, larger in its special way than that of your father. I believe, Miss Huxtable, that this would quite perfectly resolve our difficulty, and make the matter official. As for chaperonage, we have Mrs. Rumley and these other good women with us to seal your virtue. Now, of course, I realize you have certain designs of your own, and I intend to keep you well informed, in simple layman’s language, about what we uncover as we men chip and drill and hammer away to bare the secrets of the ages. And thus you’ll fulfill your purpose, to supply a little family addendum, I imagine, to the work of your esteemed father. There’s no funds to pay you, of course, but I’m sure my colleagues and I will gratefully acknowledge your kind assistance when we publish our papers.

He paused, awaiting her response.

She laughed, great peals of it banging through the

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  • (4/5)
    This book gives a good description on most of the countries we call "The axis of evil" and why we call them evil. It's a mix of the travel stories of Tony wheeler in these countries and the the background on how these countries became the way they were. This balancing act requires some focus and determination of the reader. Because it has a lot of ground to cover and a lot of ground to cover. A lot of the time, the countries are not really evil but only refuse to comply with the wishes of the western countries. Iran is an example of a really loud and obnoxious goverment, but still giving it's citizens some room without letting the country fall apart. In other countries, their goverments truly do bad things to their citizens. (North Korea) He even visits an ally of the USA, namely Saoudi Arabia, which treats their women even worse than Afghanistan. The conclusion of the book says that not all countries are really evil. Especially when you compare them what the Western countries have done onto some of them, like Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • (4/5)
    Got this from the library. It's a good travel guide/armchair travel written by the co-founder of Lonely Planet. I found his travels through Afghanistan and Albania to be fascinating, though I was less interested in Burma. Took a break in Cuba to read another book.ETA 14/8:I never finished this book. It was a good read, and some moments where the real country shined through what we hear in the news. Unfortunately I ran out of time with getting ready for the Australia trip and I had to return it to the linrary