Like a River Glorious Page 55

It would be murder, plain and simple. I’ve killed plenty of living creatures, sure, and every single one would have preferred to go on living, thank you very much. But I’ve never killed a man. And I’ve never killed something just because it was hateful and dangerous.

My daddy did, once. Not a man, but a bear. It was prowling the hills around Dahlonega, breaking into cabins and making a horrible mess of things. It had developed a taste for salted pork, apparently, but one day it burst into a cabin and suddenly developed a taste for old Benjamin Dalton, too. The bear had to die. It was a menace. So my daddy shot him.

I’m not sure whether killing my uncle is the same as putting down that bear, or not. Hiram is a menace, for sure and certain. What would my daddy say if he knew what I was thinking now? That his own daughter was contemplating coldblooded murder?

He’d probably be shocked and appalled. No daughter of mine is a murderer. You’re a smart girl. You can figure this. Find another solution.

But maybe he’d cheer me on.

Take him out, sweet pea. He killed me first.

If I were to do this awful thing, I’d need a weapon. A gun would bring everyone running so fast I’d never get away. But maybe getting away isn’t my priority. Stopping my uncle is.

A knife is a quieter way. And a more intimate one. I’d have to get close. Close enough that he could hurt me if I wasn’t swift and silent.

Maybe I could steal some laudanum. Frank Dilley still has some, and maybe Wilhelm. Could I sneak it into my uncle’s food? The taste is strong. I’d have to be very careful.

I lurch up from the table and start pacing out of frustration.

None of these options is a good one, but even if they were, there’s still the problem of getting my hands on one of these items.

Then again, jumping into the fray without knowing the whole plan might just muck everything up. Muskrat and Mary seem pretty capable. Maybe I should sit tight and trust them to figure everything out.

But I can’t help feeling that Hiram Westfall is my responsibility. And it’s up to me to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else ever again.

 

 

Chapter Eighteen


The door creaks open, and I freeze midstep. My uncle enters with a rush of cold air.

“Hello, sweet pea,” he says. He carries a large package wrapped in twine beneath one arm, which he sets down just inside the door.

“Uncle.”

He whips off his gloves and places them on top of the package. “Have you been to the mine yet today?”

“Not yet.” I hide my hands behind my back, the ones that have been contemplating murder, as if hiding them can hide my intentions.

“I want you to visit every day. Make sure the boys are going in the right dir—” His gaze drifts down to my muddy, ragged hem, and his face becomes so dark it puts a chill in my throat. “What happened to your dress?”

I swallow. “I had Wilhelm take me on a tour of the south fields. It was very muddy.”

“That’s not a place for a young lady.”

“You said to familiarize myself with our operation. I’m still familiarizing. It’s a big, complicated place, and you can’t expect me to take it all in at one go.”

He removes his hat and hangs it on its peg by the door. “You wanted to see that horse.”

No sense lying about that. “Well, yes, that too. I raised her from a foal. Wanted to make sure Abel Topper was taking care of her.”

“And if he wasn’t? What then, Leah?”

I would have gutted that worthless worm. “Well, I suppose I would have told you about it, hoping you’d have a word with him.”

“A man doesn’t interfere with how another man handles what’s his.”

“Seems to me men don’t always do a good job handling what’s theirs.”

His eyes flash with anger, and I almost take a step back. “That’s his business,” he says. “A man ought to be sovereign in his house, even if his house is only a horse, a woman, and a gun.”

My molars grind together so hard it makes my jaw ache. Jefferson got beaten by his da all the time because no one would interfere. Mrs. Lowrey died giving birth because everyone refused to interfere. And no one in Dahlonega dared interfere when my parents were murdered and a strange man rode into town claiming their homestead and me along with it.

Well, I’m going to interfere. I’m going to interfere plenty.

“Visit the mine,” my uncle orders. “The gold’s not coming up fast enough. We need more, and soon.”

“All right.”

“Speaking of . . . odd thing happened.”

My heart pounds a little faster, even though I’m not sure what he’s going to say. “The foremen blasted forward into the rock, like you suggested. They found almost nothing. But the blast impact carved out a bit more than expected of the west wall. And wouldn’t you know but the vein picked up right there, exactly where you didn’t tell them to go.”

My heart is pounding in earnest now. “I . . . well . . . sometimes my sense of things is foggy where there’s so much gold to be had.”

Two swift strides is all it takes for him to close the distance between us. His hand darts out and cups my chin, raising my face to meet his gaze. His thumb and forefinger bore into my jaw as he says, “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I . . . Okay.”

“Your friends Bigler and McCauley are going to be mighty hungry tonight on account of missing supper. A second time, and hunger will be the least of their worries.”

His grip on my jaw is so tight and my frustration and anger so great that a single blasted tear leaks from my right eye. Judas tear, betrayer tear. “I’ll . . . I’ll do better.”

Hiram releases me all at once, and I stumble backward. “That’s my girl,” he says. “I have some more errands to run, but I’ll be back later to make sure you visited the mine. Also, there will be no visiting your friends today. You may see them again after you’ve been on good behavior.”

My back is against the cabin wall now, and I take a bit of strength in its solidness. “Where did you go this morning?” I ask. He’s always off on some errand or other, but it doesn’t seem like there’s all that much business to attend to in this wilderness.

“Why do you ask?”

Prev Next