What's she lookin' at? she wondered, and called to her sister in the loft. "Jule, go find out what's got Ma standin' like a tree in the dooryard."
"Go see for yourself," her sister refused. "I'm busy. These sheets are all tangled. Mr. Henry didn't fold them right."
"Well, he's a man. A body can't expect him to know how." She abandoned her attempt to cajole her sister into running her own errand, picked up the wash tub and stepped to the door.
She flung the water onto the dusty soil, then put down the tub and approached her mother.
"Someone's a-comin'," Ma told Marie, as though she had eyes in the back of her head to see her. "Drivin' a wagon."
"Settlers?" There was still land to be had south of here. Perhaps they would have new neighbors.
"I don't reckon. I only see the one soul on the seat."
"Hmm," Marie replied. "There's something shiny hanging on the side."
"I see it. Copper?"
"Is that a pot?"
Marie shaded her own eyes, then said, "That it would appear."
The person on the wagon seat drew near enough they could make out that it was a man with a dark, swarthy face and felt hat pulled over his brow. As he come closer, he began to sing a song about the goods he had to sell.
"A peddler? We've got a peddler comin'! Girl, we'll get you the necessaries for your marriage after all." Ma's smiled brightened her face.
That's . . . good," Marie said, and hoped her voice didn't sound as disheartened as she felt.
The man came on, driving his wagon and singing his song, until he pulled up the horse, and pots and pans covering the outside of the vehicle clattered and clanged as they settled to a stop.
Julianna came out of the house and joined them. Ma put her arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Welcome," she said to the man, her voice reflecting her good cheer. "Climb down and take a rest."
"I do not mind if I do," the man replied, suiting his actions to his words, and tipping his hat to Marie and Ma once he was on the ground. His lean face cracked a wide smile. "I am Raphael, ladies, and I wish you good morning."
"And a good morning to you, sir," Ma said, her smile rivaling that of the peddler man. "Can I get you breakfast?"
"No, no, I've feasted long since, madam." He looked around. "A tidy homestead you have here."
"This is Owen land, sir. My mister is called Roderick Owen, and there was never a harder worker than he."
"Indeed. Indeed," said the peddler with one name. "I have wares to sell today. Pots, both copper and iron. Muslin and linsey-woolsey by the bolt or by the yard. Scissors, needles, and pins. Foodstuffs in tinned vessels. Beans and bacon. Sacks of salt and vials of spices. Knives and flatware and tableware. Sharpening stones, grinding stones, and stones for the chickens' gizzards. Chickens and rabbits, if you have none. Liniment and ointment and salves to soften your skin and draw your splinters. And trinkets. Mirrors and ribbons and lace. Bonnets and feathers and lockets and rings. Cushions for your chairs or for your footstools. What do you need to buy?"
"I'll be trading for a beef cow, butchered or on the hoof."
"I will trade," the man agreed. "Live on the hoof will suffice."
"Good." She turned to Julianna. "Daughter, go for your pa. Tell him a trader's come, and I need a cow."
"Yes ma'am," she said, and ran toward the mountain.
"Now then, tell me when I've reached the worth of a good beef cow. I need sharp kitchen knives. Utensils. Tableware for two. A pot and a spider, both iron. Bed linens. Ticking for pillows." Ma continued with a list of necessaries, and the peddler pulled out a note pad and pencil to jot down her wants. Then he began to fill her order, making a pile beside the door. Marie slipped into the house and put the wash tub away, her mind unsettled by the tangible evidence of her coming change of circumstances.
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Copyright 2012 Marsha Ward