When the guide leading the preacher's wagon rode back to tell them that they would reach St. Louis by nightfall, Katherine felt the tiredness melting off her with every step her horse took. She also noticed that if her tiredness was going away, it seemed to be taking up residence with Corporal Brennan. She slowed her horse to walk beside his and almost got the courage to ask before Jack's pony came galloping back from the head of the line. When the cloud of dust settled, Jack pushed back his hat and grinned at her.
"St. Louey by suppertime, Kate. Just in time for a steak dinner, whiskey and a bathtub for two." Katherine felt herself start to chuckle again as she shook her head "no". She was finding it increasingly easier to laugh at Jack's antics but there was no way she was taking part in any of his shenanigans.
Jack wheeled his pony and galloped off, shouting "I still have hope for you Kate McInnis!" at the top of his crazy lungs, and the wagon full of preacher's daughters were hanging on every word.
When Katherine turned back to Corporal Brennan –why was it so hard to just say 'Bill'?—his face was hard and his jaw was set. Not the best of times to start a conversation, but Katherine plunged on:
"Corporal, I do thank you for all of your help." she started. When he simply nodded without looking at her, she figured her olive branch came too late. She was ready to kick her pony into a trot when he finally spoke.
"What are your plans when you get to St. Louis, then?"
She thought for a moment before answering: "Go to the Jefferson Barracks and start turning over rocks, I guess. My brother would have traveled between there and Ft. Leavenworth for his work. It was the last place that I'd gotten a letter from. I sent word when our parent's passed, but I don't even know if he got it. Here," she said, digging into her saddlebags and retrieving a tattered envelope that she then handed to him, " this is the last I hear. It is nothing ominous, which makes it all the odder to me that nothing followed it."
Bill unfolded the letter and read aloud:
"My dearest Mathilda Q. Drudgebottom,
I hope this letter finds you well recovered from your plague of facial sores and your beard and moustache returned to all of its former glory…"
Bill shot Katherine a glance and in that instance he knew how she'd been able to resist Jack for so long, she had a Jack of her own at home.
"That being said," he continued "this letter leaves me well and happy. The work is challenging as the maps I am given often bear little resemblance to the land I am surveying, but it is of little matter, dear sister, because I am out of the city and in the bosom of the country that the Lord saw fit to give us. I am in the process of designing a series of blazed areas and sentry mounds to serve as a containment for the savages. ( As to them, because I know you will ask, they are a simple bunch, but odd in the ways that you so often are, so I am sure that you would become the greatest of friends) I have set me sights far higher, sweet girl, and have recently dined with the Colonel himself. It is only now that I take my swollen belly, along with your last letter, to my bunk in order to digest them both completely. Good night and sweetest of dreams, dear sister.
Your brother, Emmet.
"Simple savages, huh?" ruminated Bill. "It'd be a wonder if he hasn't gotten himself killed." With that, Katherine snatched the letter out of his hand with a look that assured him it would be a cold day in hell before he got a giggle out of her. As he began to stammer an apology, Jack rode back to let them know they had finally reached St. Louis.