Michigan Territory, 1835

The sound of his breathing filled me with dread, for it was wet and rasping. When he coughed it was with the rough of agony and ruin. The fire was as warm as one could hope and I had done as much as I could towards sealing our dilapidated cabin against the wind, but it was still far too chill. Nonetheless I coaxed Jeremy to unwrap himself and lose some of his fevered heat to the air, particularly when his temperature would soar and his mind would become clouded with delusion. When lucid I plied him with hot cups of herbal tea made from plants and roots I knew could be relied upon to ease his discomfort and aid his breathing. The pickings were slim, for the season had long turned, but there was enough to provide a slender reed of hope to which I would cling.

“This is vile,” he rasped after sipping at my latest concoction, “but I prefer it to the blood letting and purgatives of the doctors I’ve known.”

“I’ll do my best to keep you from the clutches of those fiends,” I laughed, showing far more cheer than I truly felt. He was so very ill that a visit from a “real” doctor would likely kill him.

Outside I listened to the wind, which had been gentle at dawn, but was now picking up as the sky turned a dull, depressing grey. The temperature was falling and the scent of storm was in the air. The trees were bare and lifeless, only the majestic spruce and firs showing any signs of willingness to struggle through the coming storms of November. I gathered my coat tightly about myself as I scoured the ground about the cabin for useable stones. The cabin’s fireplace was open and placed near the north corner, with only a smoke hole in the roof. If I could pile stones in that corner as a backdrop for the fire they would catch and conserve the warmth.

Our mule, tied on the leeward side of the cabin, shifted nervously uttering noises of unhappiness as he chewed the meager fare I had gathered for him. I had thought to bring the mule inside with us, but I knew I would soon have to shoot him for meat and I preferred to do that work outside. It would be a dangerous corner I turned once done for it would mean spending the winter in this cabin. It would mean Jeremy’s death, for we were in no way prepared to spend four or more cold, harsh months in this place.

I had made two trips out and back, each time returning with several large stones for my makeshift hearth, when as I set out for my third I heard the sounds of horses’ hooves on the frozen ground followed soon by the voices of men. My first thought was to run back inside to fetch the pistol and I silently cursed myself for neglecting it, but they were already upon me, coming from the trees along the same path Jeremy and I had followed three days prior. I stood straight under the overhanging roof and leveled my gaze on them as they approached at a slow walk, each trailing two pack mounts.

One was older as evidenced by the grey in his full beard and the weary creases about his eyes. He sat easily in his saddle and I could see no threat in him at all. The other was younger and while not sporting a beard certainly had several days growth on his face. He too appeared unthreatening to my eyes. They were likely father and son and as they brought their mounts to a halt before the cabin they both tipped their wide-brimmed hats to me.

“Mornin’, ma’am,” the older man said by way of a greeting, “I’m Tom Kelly, this is my boy, Will.”

“Elaine,” I replied, adding after a moment’s hesitation, “…McAllister.”

I surprised myself at feeling hesitation over that small lie. I had never presumed to call myself Jeremy’s wife even though we freely allowed others to see us as married. For some reason I had felt it necessary to be explicit with these men. I only hoped Jeremy would not expose the lie.

“A bit surprised to see anyone out here this time of year, what with the weather settin’ in and all. I hope you’re not plannin’ on winterin’ here…”

“We stopped here three days ago. My husband is very ill and I had no inkling of the distance to any town… when we happened upon this place it seemed prudent to…”

The door to the cabin flew open with a crash and Jeremy lurched through it, his rifle in his hands. His eyes were glazed and he was shaking violently, his skin gone ashen. Mr. Kelly and his son both reined their horses back, the boy reaching for his own musket before his father stayed his hand.

“What goes here?” Jeremy rasped, “Who are these men?”

I turned just in time to catch him up as he staggered, his knees buckling. I put my shoulder under his and bore him up as I took the rifle before he could drop it. I heard the men dismounting behind me, then a moment later Mr. Kelly took Jeremy’s other arm and together we brought him inside and settled him back upon his bed of blankets. He was on fire with fever, now moaning incoherently between racking coughs as I struggled to settle him down again, holding him down and speaking soft soothing words until the fever’s surge subsided.

Both Mr. Kelly and his son were inside the cabin and as I looked up at them I could see the grim certainty in their eyes. I set myself firmly, meeting their gaze in defiance. Mr. Kelly frowned, and his eyes wandered over the interior of the cabin, settling on the fire and the stone hearth I had been constructing. He nodded approvingly.

“That’s a fine idea, Mizza McAllister. Will, why don’t you go help the lady gather up what she needs to finish this up? Mr. McAllister and I need to have a few words.”

I looked back at Jeremy where he lay. His eyes were open and clear again as he nodded at me, but I was reluctant to leave for I knew what these men, so polite and gallant in their certainty, would have to say to one another. Nonetheless the help with the fireplace would be appreciated so I gathered my coat and hat and set out with the younger Mr. Kelly. I would deal with the good-intentioned foolishness of my man and Mr. Kelly once other tasks were well completed.

“Me an’ my pa kinda got a late start,” Will told me as we gathered stones and piled them inside the door to the cabin, “should’a been back t’ camp near a week ago. Got held up dealin’ with the traders back at Fort Brady.”

“Your camp,” I enquired, “how far off is it?”

“Maybe two days ride due north, if’n the weather holds. Sure don’ feel like it, though. Gonna be in a real state o’ things, we don’t make time. That’ll be tough on ?em that’s waitin’ on us, we get ourself dead out here.”

“You’re bringing supplies? How many are there?”

“Oh, it’s a good tradin’ outpost, maybe a dozen. More, dependin’ on who straggles in for winter.”

I digested that as we hauled more stones, but I kept my thoughts to myself. They had four loaded packhorses. The men at that trading post might enjoy those supplies, but I doubted it was a matter of life or death. That thought turned down dark paths I did not wish to follow, but I took measure of them regardless. Those thoughts were heavy on my heart, particularly with this young man working by my side.

Two days ride. So tantalizingly close, yet it might as well be a thousand miles for Jeremy would never survive the trip. If we had but another week, a chance for him to break his fever and regain some strength… But the sky did not bode well. Once the snow set in these trails would be closed to all but those most brave, or most foolish.

Will’s father had been working on the hearth as we gathered the stones and he pronounced it fit as it was likely to get after a couple of hours. Midday was closing in and the sky was still grey and cold, but things had not noticeably worsened, giving us hope the storm might stay its hand, and as Will and I returned to the cabin I was hopeful things might turn out better than I had thought.

All hope of that died when I found my own pack fully loaded and propped up next to the door. I stared at it for a moment, and then looked at Jeremy, propped up into a sitting position near the fire.

“Elaine…” he began.

“No.” I said, quietly, but firmly, shaking my head.

“Mrs. McAllister,” Tom Kelly began, a pleading tone in his voice.


“Elaine, please,” Jeremy pleaded, “come here and listen to me.”

Angry and determined I moved towards him, intending to kneel by his side and explain in no uncertain terms why I would not be sent away, when I was suddenly seized from behind, strong hands gripping my arms and pulling them back. I screamed and lashed backwards with my heel, but Mr. Kelly slipped that, then caught my leg and gently, but firmly pressed me forward to the ground.

“Now Mrs. McAllister,” he said, speaking quietly with no animosity in his voice at all, “Your husband and I had a long talk and this is really for the best.”

“You’re going to leave him here to die!? That’s for the best?” I tried to squirm out from under the man but his grip was strong and he held me fast. “Jeremy! Tell him to let me go!”

Jeremy coughed spastically, shaking his head as he held out his hand, trying to signal me to stay calm. I stopped struggling, listening to his breathing as he brought the coughing under control again. There were tears in his eyes… and surrender.

“Elaine,” he whispered, his voice too hoarse for anything else, “I am done. Look at me… look at me! I’ve been holding so… afraid to leave you alone.” I stared at him, calculating what to say. “I told him you would resist, my love, but…” he coughed uncontrollably a few times, then looked at me weakly. “Elaine… you must, you must go.”

I stared at him some more, my heart ripped by his nobility, his sacrifice, and his utter foolishness. I knew in that moment that I could not reason with him: I would just have to fight. Everything dissolved then into a flurry of screaming, kicking, cursing, and pleading as the Kelly men finally lashed my feet together and bound my hands, there being no other way to control me. Tom then hefted me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and turned for the door. Jeremy was slack in his huddle of blankets, eyes closed, his face pained as he wheezed for breath.

“He’s unconscious!” I wailed, “You can’t leave him like this! He’ll die in hours if the fire fails!”

Outside our pack mule had been added to the train of horses and I was carefully laid over its back, face down. I pleaded with them, cursed at them as they calmly secured me in place, Will carefully wrapping me in blankets against the cold, moving stiffly as I pleaded with him not to do this. Then Tom returned and stooped down to look into my face.

“He’s awake, ma’am,” he said, “And I stoked the fire right good for him. We’ve left whiskey and water and food, more’n he’s like to need. I don’t expect you to thank us. I know you’ll be cursin’ my name ?til your dyin’ day, but at least that’ll be some time down the road, not this winter and not in this place.”

“Please!” I wept, “You can’t do this! You can’t!”

“Will, it’s time we got on our way.”

3 Responses to “Michigan Territory, 1835”

  1. Okay, obviously, you turned out allright. Or is this just short fiction? I’m never exactly sure what I’m getting here when I visit.

    There are a hundred different things one could say about your posts, but the one thing I’ll say about them is this: thanks.

  2. You are entirely welcome.

    As to what to make of these things… make of them what you will.

  3. May you have a wonderful new year.
    And I also say “Thanks”.