He was my brother, and I loved him. He was tall and quick with a laugh and always ready for adventure. George was a year older, and still a bit bigger than me, but he never took full advantage of his strength when we wrassled on the river bank.
“You’re a little too quick for me, Caleb,” he said as I got loose and rolled over on top.
“Good thing I’m quick, I suppose. Cause if I couldn’t get away from you I wouldn’t see tomorrow!” With a sharp poke at his ribs, I jumped up and started running. If I could get a head start I could always beat him running.
“I think if there were any fish hereabouts before, they’ve been chased down the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by all this racket!” Rachel’s voice, silky like the river and sparkling with the sun, arrested me in my tracks.
He was my brother, and I hated him. I hated the way he always had his chores done on time, I hated that he never forgot what work we were supposed to be doing when some notion wanted to take me off into the woods, but most of all I hated the way Rachel looked at him with her face full of sunshine and promise.
The three of us were thick as thieves, growing up together. She had no brothers or sisters, and was like another brother to us, only better. Somehow George and I didn’t mind when she’d get all soft or weepy. We’d seen her toughness plenty and knew she’d come around. And we knew we could count on her to keep a secret.
But that was before. “That Rachel is blossoming right before our eyes,” Mom would say as she looked up from her loom. “And the devil is weaving some evil out of it, for sure.”
George and I wouldn’t say anything, but we both felt a chill, I think. I know I did.
Things stayed in that precarious balance for about another year, like that dead tree next to the smoke house Dad was always planning to do something about, waiting for the right wind to blow in and bring it crashing down.
For a while I forgot how much I was mad at my brother about Rachel. I could always make her laugh, and sometimes when I got to talking about striking out West on my own to see the land Lewis and Clark had just explored, those green eyes of hers would shimmer like cool ponds on a hot summer day and I found myself wanting to dive right in.
I think for a while my brother was jealous of me. He started working all the time, plowing some new fields and laying a foundation for the logs he was laying by. “I’m building my future,” he’d say, but I knew it was only a house.
Rachel spent a lot of time with me, including a couple of late nights where we met each other in the meadow, stretched out under an open sky. Then all of a sudden she was cold and standoffish. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and she wouldn’t talk about it with me.
I was wracking my brain, trying to piece out what my next step should be when one October Saturday night I came home from hunting for deer and our whole family was gathered with Rachel and her folks on the porch, drinking cider and toasting.
“There you are,” Dad said, beaming away. “George and Rachel are getting married!”
I felt like a cold knife had been stuck clear through my belly. I don’t know how, but I mumbled some congratulations. I couldn’t read Rachel’s face. She kept looking away.
I somehow got through the evening, and after everyone had gone happy to bed, I got back up, tied together a few things, wrote a note and lit out. I knew an outfit that was signing up trappers to head out west to the mountains. I’d always wanted to go, and now there was no reason not to.
I didn’t see George for a couple of years, until he showed up at rendezvous. Seems he’d discovered he could “build his future faster” trapping furs a few years than waiting for crops to come up. Looking back now, I know it was a devilish crop he sowed, when he came West. I know where the bloody knife is buried.
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