Six-year-old Isadora Sobol turned soft hazel green eyes up to the large dirt covered man standing next to her, almost oblivious to her presence. Tugging on his brown leather vest she called softly, “Papa.” And got no response. Stepping closer she tugged harder, calling a bit louder to get him to turn his back or at least lift his head from staring at his dirty boots.
This time he glanced towards the sky his dark brown hair much like her own falling back as he lifted his head. After a drawn-out ᛭ sigh he turned and finally glanced down. His green eyes were filled with anger, regret, and unshed tears and he swallowed hard before he spoke, fighting the crack in his deep gravelly voice.
“What is it darling?”
Pointing a shaking finger to the neat freshly piled mound, Isadora hesitated before she let the words come out in a rush “Will Mama be alright….” Then glancing into her father’s gruff unshaven face, she finished after swallowing “in there?”
Swallowing hard Jeremiah Sobol, sniffed then took a brief glance at the mound located to the east of their homestead under the shade of the apple tree. He planned to put a swing there for Isadora before the summer started. Maybe even a tree house but now…he turned away and glared at the sky before returning his gaze back to his daughter.
“She will be alright, Izzy. Now let’s go.” He said gruffly before grabbing her small hand.
“Why are we leaving, Papa?” Isadora asked worriedly, snatching her small hand from his grasp, and backing away towards the mound.
“You cannot stay here Izzy!” Jeremiah declared, painfully fighting tears. “Those monsters may come back! Don’t know for what…” He rubbed his eyes and ran a distressed hand over his beard. “they done took everything from me.” He finished tiredly. Sniffing and fighting fresh tears, Jeremiah crouched down and spoke tenderly to the one thing he had left that mattered. “Now Iz, your Mama will be fine. The angels got her now. They’re gonna look after her. Now we, we gotta see to ourselves and I…I can’t…” the fought the rising anger. “I just can’t stay here no more! I just can’t stay here one minute while those monsters are still running around!”
Even in her child’s mind Isadora knew what her father was about. You couldn’t live in Dakota Territory and not know what happens to outlaws. After taking one final glance at her mother’s resting place, Isadora walked into his waiting arms.
“Now I’m gonna drop you off at Mrs. Owens’s place. She’ll take care of you till I get back.” Jerimiah promised as they hugged and Isadora asked through her tears, “We’ll come back for Mama, won’t we?”
Instead of making a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep, Jerimiah stood and said, “Come with me into the house.” He took her small hand into his larger one and led her back through their rampaged yard and back through the broken back door. Both ignored the overturned furniture and blood on her mother’s once pristine tan carpet. He led her straight to her parents’ bedroom and the chest at the foot of the bed. Pushing it aside, he pulled at the loose floorboard until it came free, then reached inside the space and pulled out an old biscuit tin. He ran his hands reverently over its printed cover before he spoke, “Your Mama was a refined woman. Had no business with a mountain man. A true lady.” He sighed, swallowed then began again. “I left my mountain for her. Got us this spread. Its prime land.” He finished pulling out papers. “Stay here.” Jerimiah left and went into the other room, returning with a doll.
“Annie?” Asked a confused Isadora when she saw the patch work stuffed doll in her father’s meaty grip. Then she gasped “Annie!” as he pulled out his bowie knife and began pulling apart the doll stitching.
“Shh!” Jerimiah commanded quickly, cutting off her complaints while shrugging away her hands as he pulled out some of the doll’s cotton stuffing. “Annie’s gonna be worth a whole lot more to yuh now.” He waved a paper in front of her, “This is your Mama and mine’s marriage certificate.” He stuffed it into the doll and showed her another. “This is the deed to this here homestead.” Into the doll it went then the pulled out another “this is for mountain lands.” He almost crushed the last paper in anger. “This is for the mine.” He shook the paper “No one is to know about the mine. Take only what you need. Small nuggets only. Don’t draw attention to it! Remember, no one Iz!” Finally, he slid his simple gold wedding ring off his finger and pulled a smaller version from the right pocket of his dungarees. He kissed them both then added them to the papers within the doll. “These are our wedding rings. Maybe they’ll be lucky for you.” Jerimiah stopped suddenly as he realized that he may not be around to walk her down the aisle. “Marry a good man Izzy. Not a drink loving, gun toting, uncivilized fool like me. A man who can tell one fork from the other. When you get older…” He paused finally cracking a sad smile showing deep dimples in his weathered face.” When you’re a whole lot older. Marry a smart man, a church going fella who knows which fork to use. A fella who will take real good care of yuh and then you bring him here where you can take care of your Mama. You hear me?”
“I hear you Papa.” Isadora nodded. “I’ll come back to Mama.”
“Good girl.” He praised as he stood. “Now let’s get Annie sewed up and git gone. Now my stitches may not be as fine as yuh Mama’s….”
By the time he returned fall was over and winter was fast approaching. He was pounds thinner and eyes harder. He looked as if the devil himself had reached inside him and dragged out his soul and felt he went a round with Death. Which may not be an exaggeration considering the bullet wound on his side.
He didn’t dismount his borrowed horse, more like he dragged his large frame to the ground while trying to keep his side from bleeding out. He slouched through Mrs. Owens garden path to her whitewashed stairs to knock on the door.
After she opened the door and gasped at his appearance or probably the scent of him as well, she quickly took hold of his right side and helped him past the threshold. His presence filled up the room and when he spied Isadora kneeling on the window seat, he straightened his spine, gave her a half smile, and jerked his chin towards her, too tired to speak before collapsing on Mrs. Owens soft cream carpet.
Fever had Jeremiah in a grip for almost a week and despite all Mrs. Owens fussing, he still took care of his needs himself. After two more weeks of not even speaking one word to Isadora, he just walked up to her with his saddle bag over his shoulder and her small carpet bag in his hand” We’re leavin’. Say your thanks to Mrs. Owens for taking care of you.”
Isadora glanced at Mrs. Owens who took her worried expression like a lifeline. “Winter is coming. You just can’t take the girl to that mountain of yours! She needs a woman’s care!”
“She’s my kid! Not yours!” Jeremiah stated with determination in his stance. “I’ll protect her! I’ll keep her safe! She needs that more than any woman’s care!” Sticking his hand out to Isadora he repeated softly, “Come on Iz. Say your goodbye’s to Mrs. Owens.”
Placing her hand in her fathers she did as he instructed, without making eye contact. “Goodbye Mrs. Owens. Thanks for watching me for my Papa.”
She made a final plea before they left. “At least go back home, Jeremiah!”
“I am!” He answered in finality as they marched down the garden path.