“How much longer?”
Priscilla Morton tried to smile at the woman on the opposite side of the stagecoach. Now that Papa was asleep, Mama’s normally quiet voice had turned querulous, sending waves of regret through her daughter as her words reminded Priscilla for what seemed like the thousandth time that this was her fault. She was the one who’d insisted they come. “Soon.” Priscilla reached across to pat her mother’s hand, her smile wry when she recalled Mama warning her to be careful what she wished for. Priscilla had wished for adventure, never dreaming that the adventure would involve comforting her mother as if Mama were the child.
When they’d received Clay’s letter inviting the family to his wedding, Priscilla had realized this was the opportunity she had sought for so long and had convinced Mama and Papa they should go to Texas. Though she’d relished the idea of leaving Massachusetts and venturing into parts of the country that her sister had described as wild and foreign, she had been careful in phrasing her arguments. While her parents would not willingly seek adventure, they loved Clay, and so it had taken little persuasion for them to agree that Clay deserved to have family with him at his wedding, even if the family was only his by marriage.
At home in Boston, it had seemed a fine plan. But the journey had been more difficult than Priscilla had expected.
Though Mama had been stoic on the train, once they’d left its relative comfort for the bone-jarring stagecoaches, her mood had deteriorated, and the days had turned into litanies of complaints. Dust, mud, insects, the rutted roads, even the scenery, which Priscilla had found beautiful, had bothered Mama, and now that the other passengers had left the coach, she saw no need to mute her laments. This was not the adventure Priscilla had sought.
“We’ll reach San Antonio tomorrow.” Priscilla gave her mother the same response she’d provided only ten minutes earlier. “Clay will be waiting to take us to Ladreville.” The small town, he had told Priscilla, was a half-day’s journey northwest of San Antonio, located on what he had described as a particularly beautiful stretch of the Medina River. Mama didn’t care about that now. What she needed was reassurance that she would survive the stagecoach’s jolting. Priscilla gestured toward her mother’s Bible. “Would you like me to read to you?” Most days, the Psalms comforted Mama, although recently she had insisted on Job, claiming she was suffering as much as he had.
Mama shook her head. “Not now. My head hurts.” Poor Mama. She was like a hothouse flower, wilting in the Texas sun. She twisted her rings, a sure sign that she was distraught. “I certainly hope Clay has a hot bath waiting for me when we reach that ranch of his.”
“He will.” In all likelihood it would be Sarah, his brideto- be, who would provide the amenities Mama expected, but Priscilla knew better than to mention that. At first she had attributed her mother’s complaints to the rigors of travel, but as the journey had progressed, Priscilla had discovered the causes were not simply physical. Mama was deeply disturbed that Clay was remarrying. Though Patience had died more than a year ago, Mama seemed to believe he should spend the rest of his life mourning the loss of his wife, Mama’s firstborn daughter.
“Isn’t the countryside beautiful?” Priscilla pointed to the window. This part of Texas boasted gently rolling hills and valleys dotted with small ponds. Clusters of trees, some of them dripping with what she had learned was Spanish moss, lined the banks of narrow streams. With the greenish gold grass and the vibrantly blue sky, Priscilla found it a scene of pastoral beauty. Though she doubted Mama would agree, this was a safer topic of conversation than her mother’s former son-in-law.
Mama stared outside for a moment. “I suppose some might like it,” she conceded, “but I cannot picture Patience here.” Neither could Priscilla. Her sister had been a lot like Mama, content with her life in Boston, uncomfortable in Texas. When Patience and Clay had returned to his birthplace, it was supposed to be for only a few months. For Patience, those few months had been the last of her life on Earth, and now, though no one would have expected it, Clay had decided to make the small town of Ladreville his home.
The coach gave a sudden lurch, knocking Papa’s head against the side, destroying his hope of sleep. “What was that?” he asked, his voice groggy.
“Just a rut, Papa.”
“That’s all this road is,” Mama grumbled. “One rut after another.”
Now fully awake, Papa took her hand between both of his. “I’m proud of you, my dear, coming all this distance to be with Clay on his wedding day. You were the one who recognized how important it was to him.”
Priscilla bit back a smile at the way Papa changed history to make Mama happy. Not for the first time, she marveled at how different her parents were, and how well those differences suited them. It wasn’t simply their physical differences. Papa was tall and lanky, characteristics he’d bestowed on Priscilla, with graying brown hair and eyes. Though no one would call him handsome, Mama was an undisputed beauty with deep auburn hair, green eyes, and what she described as a pleasingly plump figure.
Despite Mama’s claims to the contrary, Priscilla knew she’d inherited little more than her mother’s green eyes. Even her hair was a pale imitation of Mama’s, and she lacked her mother’s eye-catching beauty. Mama was as spectacular as an orchid. If her mother was a hothouse flower, Papa was a dandelion, able to thrive anywhere, and just as dandelion greens served as a spring tonic, so did Papa heal others. While it was true he was a renowned physician, in Priscilla’s estimation, his greatest feats of healing were reserved for his wife.
Mama’s face softened into a smile. “You’re right, Daniel. Just think of the stories I’ll be able to recount for our friends.”
“I assure you, none of them has ever had an adventure like this.” The kiss Papa pressed on Mama’s hand broadened her smile. “You’ll be the talk of the town.”
Leaning back, Priscilla felt her own tension begin to ebb. In less than two days, they’d be in Ladreville, reunited with Clay. He and Papa would talk about patients, Mama would have her bath, and Priscilla would meet Sarah. Though it seemed vaguely disloyal to her sister, Priscilla was looking forward to getting to know the woman Clay loved.
Perhaps she dozed. Afterwards, she was never certain. All she knew was that two gunshots rang out.
Excerpted from SCATTERED PETALS: Texas Dreams, Book 2 © Copyright 2011 by Amanda Cabot. Reprinted with p