The wind was cold, and by sundown it had picked up a few snowflakes and was driving them into the face of the old mare as it plodded along the dirt road. The horse was tired, and stumbled as she dragged the rickety wagon over the bumps and ruts. Dusk had fallen quickly. The young woman had been driving all day, pushing ahead when she should have stopped and rested. Finally, she could see the flickering lights of the small village ahead giving her just enough hope to keep going. She pulled up outside the general store; the only building of the dozen or so that dotted the main street that glowed with light. Inside, her thin, shivering body welcomed the heat from the old wood stove. The few regulars lounging about the stove looked up curiously as she entered and walked slowly to the counter. Their interest increased when they saw the baby she carried strapped to a sling on her back. Wearily, she slumped down on a stool and laid the baby on the counter. As the storekeeper came over to serve her, he could see how very pale and sickly she appeared.
"You don't look very well," the old man observed. "What can I get for you?"
She seemed to hesitate, unsure of herself. Finally, she replied. "I am searching for my husband's family. They live near here. Their name is Woods. Can you tell me the way to their farm?"
The old man thought for a minute, and then answered: "I don't know of any family named Woods around these parts.”
He turned to the group at the stove, who had been listening intently. "Do any of you know people named Woods out here?"
No one did.
"What else can you tell us about them?" he asked the young woman.
"My husband's name is John. He is a soldier. He had to leave the baby and me and go back to his Company, but he told me to come out here and stay with his folks. He wrote down where I was to go, but I lost the paper and now I don't know where to find them."
"There's a family up north of here about ten miles that got a son in the army. I don't know their name. I only heard it once, but I don't think it was Woods."
This came from one of the men by the stove, all of them trying hard to come up with some information to help the young woman.
"It don't make much sense for you to try and go any farther tonight, what with you looking sickly, and a storm coming in. You can stay here," the storekeeper suggested. "My wife will fix up the extra room in the back for you and the baby. You get a good sleep tonight and maybe tomorrow we can find out where your people are."
The young woman started to refuse, but she could feel the bleeding had started again.
"Thank you", she replied in a whisper. "I should keep looking for his family, but I am so tired I can't …."
Slowly she slipped off the stool. No one was able to move quickly enough to catch her before she fell to the floor. The men carried her into the living quarters at the back of the store, where the storekeeper's wife had them lay her down on their spare bed.
By the time an hour had passed the weather had gotten worse. Snowdrifts were beginning to pile up as the storm vented its fury on the village. The hangers on had headed for their homes before the full impact of the storm had hit, leaving Ed and Gladys Jensen alone to look after their unexpected guests.
Ed unhitched the mare and fed and bedded her down in the shed at the back of the store. When he came back in, Gladys was still tending to her patients. The young woman and the baby were both asleep, but the worried look on his wife's face gave Ed cause for concern. Quietly she closed the door as they went into the kitchen.
"She's very sick. That baby is no more than a couple of days old, and she looks to have lost a lot of blood with the birth. She was still bleeding when you carried her in. I got it stopped, but I don't know what else to do for her. She hasn't come awake since you laid her down. She needs a doctor badly, but Doc Williams is treating old Mrs. Farling down south, and there is no one else we can get tonight."
The Jensens sat up with the young woman throughout the night. Shortly before dawn she regained consciousness, sat up quickly, and looked around frantically for her baby. Gladys laid the baby gently in her arms and she smiled weakly at the sleeping infant. She held on to Gladys' hand, and the old woman realized she was burning with fever. As she tried to pull her hand away to go for some cooling cloths, the young woman held on more firmly and looked pleadingly into her eyes. "Please look after my baby", she mumbled so faintly that Gladys had to bend close to hear. "He's . . . ..tenant Woods . . . ."
Gladys could not make out the last sentence as the young woman's voice trailed away and she fell back into a deep sleep. By morning light, she was dead.
Morning also brought the end of the storm. The day broke clear and cold and the little village began to dig its way out of the drifted snow. Ed and Gladys, looking haggard from the lack of sleep, sat around the breakfast table trying to decide what to do next. They searched through her meager belongings trying to find out who she was and from where she had traveled, but there was nothing helpful. The next day she was buried in the village cemetery with a wooden marker identifying her only as Mrs. Woods.
The next few weeks were spent making inquiries in the neighboring areas, attempting to locate the Woods family or identify the young woman. None of these efforts met with success and eventually the Jensens and their friends gave up the search. It was as if the young woman had never existed except for the small living legacy she had left behind.
All that Gladys had understood from the young woman's last words was "He' tenant Woods." Hence, young Tenant Woods, soon to be known as Tenny, became an integral member of the community. Because no one claimed him and there was nowhere else to take him, he stayed with the Jensens, who were secretly delighted as he was the first child to grace their home.
Tenny grew quickly to know the ways of his adoptive parents and their small town. As the Jensens grew older and less able to take care of their business, Tenny took over most of the work and the responsibilities of providing for the family.
When Tenny was fourteen, Ed Jensen disappeared. As he had gotten older, he had become increasingly disoriented in his daily life. Toward the end, neighbors would bring the old man home after he had gone for a walk, or to visit someone, and had forgotten the way back. It was sad for Tenny to slowly lose the only father he had known. He angered over the unfairness that life had dealt the old man, and strove to protect the elderly couple as he saw the quality of their life deteriorate.
It was a bitterly cold January day with blowing snow, one of many that winter. There was little movement about the village as most of the residents stayed home, huddled around their fireplaces and stoves. Tenny kept the store open in case someone ran out supplies. As darkness fell he decided to close. Ed had been dozing by the old stove, which he had kept supplied with wood throughout the day. As Tenny went to lock the door, Ed announced he was going out to the shed to bring in one more load of logs for the night.
By the time Tenny had cleaned the store, twenty minutes had passed and Ed had not returned. Tenny took the lantern and went out to the shed, thinking that Ed might have fallen with his load of logs and was unable to get up. He followed the old man's rapidly disappearing tracks to the shed door, where they appeared to end. Inside the shed there was no evidence that any one had recently been there. The stacks of logs were covered with undisturbed snow that had drifted in through the leaky roof throughout the day. Frantically Tenny searched the shed and in ever-widening circles around it, but to no avail. He found no further sign of the old man. He continued his search until exhaustion and the cold drove him back into the store. When he told Gladys, she bundled them both into their warmest clothing, and the two searched the town, visiting everyone who might have taken the old man in. He was never found.
The loss had a traumatic effect on Tenny and Gladys, but in different ways. Gladys lost all interest in life. The cheerful friend to everyone in the village became a morose recluse almost over night. She shunned visitors, asking Tenny to send them away, She took progressively less interest in the home and store as the months passed, retreating to her bedroom to fill most of the days.
Tenny just didn't understand how it all could happen. It had been a loving home with a strong respect for the bible and its teachings. The old couple had lived a life in harmony with these teachings. They had respected the laws of God, and the laws of the land, and had taught Tenny to live in the same manner. And this had been their reward. Why? What had gone wrong? Tenny continued to ponder the confusion of it all as he attempted to put some order back into their lives.
As spring breathed new life into the earth, darkness prevailed in the Jensen home. With the disappearance of the last pockets of snow from the gullies and hollows, Tenny set out each day spending as much time as he could away from the store, searching for some clue as to what had happened to the old man. Each succeeding trip took him farther afield from the village, into the small neighboring farms, and eventually up into the low rounded hills that surrounded the valley. But, none of his searches or questions to those he encountered gave any hint as to what had happened to Ed Jensen.
As spring blossomed into summer, Tenny felt the need to spend as much time as possible away from the gloom of his home and the store. He opened the store only long enough to keep the people of the town supplied with essentials. He had given up hope of finding any explanation of Ed's disappearance. Now his trips into the wild areas were those of discovery.
On his own he was learning about the animals and plants of the forests and the rocks. Tenny was especially interested in the rocks. Some of the old books in the store told all about the rocks. When he was small he would spend hours looking at the pictures of the rocks and pester Gladys to read him the stories, until she finally taught him to read the books himself. This family, the store and the books had been his world; until his world fell.
Now his trips into the mountains became longer and more frequent. Sometimes he would be away for two and three days at a time, leaving the store and Gladys to be taken care of by a neighbor. He would trap and fish for most of his food, and eat the wild plants that the books had described. At night he would wrap in an old quilt, and fall asleep, lulled by the sounds of the night. Gradually, the pain of his loss ebbed away and he began to experience again the joy of living.
In 1841 Tenny turned sixteen and made a discovery that was to have a profound influence on his life. One morning, in a small valley just beyond his campsite, he noticed a thin wisp of smoke curling lazily up through the pines. He had planned to return to the village that morning, but his curiosity got the better of him. He had been told of the mountain people and some of their strange ways, but he had not met up with them as yet. He decided to skirt the valley to reach a vantage point above the source of the smoke before going in close. This took most of the morning, but by noon he had reached a small rock scarp a couple of hundred feet above a small cabin with its cluster of outbuildings. All the buildings were built of well-weathered logs mostly covered with moss. A large man was steadily splitting firewood logs in the yard with the biggest axe Tenny had ever seen. The man seemed to exert little effort in wielding this mammoth tool without rest. Tenny debated if he should make contact, not having any sense whether this man would be friendly or dangerous. Tenny knew he was strong and quick, but he had no weapons to defend himself. Suddenly, another man appeared at the doorway of the main cabin. He was older and of a much more fragile build. He walked toward the big man with a limp, waving his arms and shouting words that Tenny could not hear. The other man deferred to him, dropped the axe, and sat down on one of the logs.
The men seemed to relax. Both pulled out pipes, rammed them with tobacco and smoked in silence. Although still apprehensive, Tenny felt a bit more confident about breaking his cover and approaching them. He slid noiselessly from his perch and angled down the hillside. Neither man heard him approach until he entered the clearing. Immediately, the big man jumped up, reached behind the log for a rifle, and aimed it in Tenny's direction. Tenny froze in his tracks.
"Taint no bear, Scud. Dawnt shoot the boy!"
Slowly, the big man lowered the rifle and walked toward Tenny.
"I’m Scud. Who you?"
My name's Tenny Woods. I'm from the village over in the valley. I didn't mean to creep up on you like that. I thought you probably knew I was nearby.
"We waz spooked," the older man answered. "Theys ben big bear rown here. Scud figgered you him."
"There's lots of bear sign up on the ridge," Tenny replied. "It looks like a mother and two year-old cubs. As close as I could tell by the freshest tracks, they were headed up the valley."
The old man seemed satisfied with this and was silent for a moment.
"I’m Caleb, en thisears Scud. Why ubee up in theseear mowtens fer?"
"I like to get away from the village and walk in the mountains. I've been looking for different kinds of rocks."
"Theys all kines rocks up here. Taint none be werth nuttin. No gold, jes coal. We burn. Keep wawm."
Their talk continued for most of the morning in the same fashion. Tenny learned they had lived in the valley ever since Scud was born. His mother had left soon after. Scud's only contribution to the conversation was to point out a pretty bird that was singing above their head.
Tenny left in the early afternoon in order to reach home before nightfall. Caleb bid him to come back and visit again and to bring them some salt.
It was summer before Tenny made another trip to Caleb's valley. Gladys had become increasingly more of a burden with each passing day, remaining in her bed during the daylight hours, and then pacing back and forth in the store most of the night. Tenny felt obliged to stay with her, although she seemed almost oblivious to his presence. August was unseasonably hot and dry, and by the middle of the month Tenny felt he had to escape to the cool air of the mountains for a few days.
The first day, he walked all day, exhilarated by being back in the wild. He hiked across three valleys, and then along the last ridge, taking him by nightfall to the headland of Caleb's valley. He had brought the salt they had asked for and decided to get rid of its burden before exploring the lands to the west. It was noon by the time he had traversed a mile of thick side-hill brush to reach the cabin. There was no sign of activity when he walked into the yard.
"Hello! Is anyone home?"
A young girl appeared from one of the outbuildings.
"Hello! I'm home. You must be Tenny. I'm Rachel."
As she walked over to him, Tenny could see that she was older than he had first thought, probably only a couple of years younger than him. Her slight build, and the shapeless dress that Tenny recognized as once having contained bulk flour, were misleading.
"Pa and Scud are off hunting down in the valley. Pa told me you came to see them a while back."
Tenny was at a loss for words. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, much prettier than the few girls in the village that came to visit with him at the store. Her body was darkly tanned. Her rich black hair fell about her shoulders, framing a perfectly sculptured face, which seemed to carry a perpetual smile. She was shorter than Tenny, but walked with the grace of a taller woman. She immediately and totally captivated Tenny.
They talked through the remainder of the afternoon. She told him that she lived most of the year with her mother in the Mohawk village to the north. Caleb was her father, but her mother had taken her home soon after she was born.
Caleb and Scud returned later with a pair of turkeys they had shot, and Rachel proceeded to prepare one of the birds to roast over the spit.
"I hope you will stay and eat with us," she said.
"I left my bedroll in camp up the valley. I'll need at least two hours of daylight to get there," Tenny replied.
"Big moon tonight. No dark," Scud offered.
Tenny looked up at the cloud-covered sky and shook his head.
Rachel saw the doubt on his face.
"He'll be right. He always is. You'll see."
The turkey was delicious, and Tenny ate until he could eat no more. Drowsily, he got up as the shadows began to lengthen.
"I must go. I have just enough time to get back to my camp."
"Will you come back and see us soon again?" Rachel asked, as she took his hand.
"Do you want me to come back?"
For the first time Tenny did not see the self-assured young woman he had gotten to know, but a shy girl, unsure of her feelings.
As Tenny started to leave, Scud came up, grabbed him gently by the shoulders, and looked intently into his eyes. Finally, he spoke. "Bear in woods tonight."
Tenny uneasily made his way back up the valley, stopping for every sound that wasn't immediately familiar. To avoid the thick foliage on the valley slope, he had climbed directly up to the ridge and skirted the valley as he made his way around to the headland above his camp. He moved quietly as he had learned to do when stalking the animals that he wished to observe closely. The moon was full and bright, as Scud had predicted, and the night was still, except for a light breeze that occasionally rustled through the trees along the trail. Suddenly, he heard a twig snap behind him. In the stillness of the night it sounded like a gunshot. Tenny froze then moved slowly behind a large oak beside the trail. As close as he could tell, he was downwind from the sound, so hopefully his scent had not been picked up. He waited perfectly still, barely daring to breathe. As he began to relax, he could see a shadow moving slowly through the thick bush along the slope below. The movement stopped, and the shadow grew taller as the bear stood on his hind legs. He moved his head back and forth, testing the wind, which had picked and was now blowing up from the valley floor away from the bear and toward Tenny. Tenny could detect traces of the rancid smell of the bear in the breeze. Obviously the bear could not pick up Tenny’s scent, as he fell back on all fours and ambled obliquely up the slope ahead. Tenny dared not move for what seemed an eternity. Finally, he crept back on the trail and continued in the direction of his camp, always on the alert for further signs of the bear's passage. A few hundred yards up the trail he picked up fresh bear tracks in the mud, where the bear had crossed the trail and moved down slope into the opposite valley.
The remainder of Tenny's trip to his campsite was without incident. He half expected to find his belongings torn apart and spread around the clearing. But, everything was as he had left it. His food was still secure in a nearby tree. This was reassuring, but Tenny did not feel safe spending the rest of the night at this site. He thought about the other campsite that he had used the night before he discovered Caleb's cabin. Going along the ridge on the other side of the valley, he figured it would take only a couple of hours. He would feel much safer with more distance between him and the bear.
When he returned, he asked around the village about these people he had met that lived in the mountains, but nobody seemed to know much about them. It was a week before Tenny could get away from the store again to visit Rachel. Since his return he couldn't stop thinking about her. On Monday morning, after unloading the monthly supplies for the store, and getting everything stacked and sorted, he set off across the ridge to visit her.
"I knew you'd be coming today."
"How could you know? I didn't know myself until this morning when the wagon with the store supplies came in."
"Scud said you'd be here."
"Is he ever wrong?" asked Tenny. He then proceeded to tell her about meeting up with the bear the same night that Scud had warned him.
"I knew something was wrong," Rachel replied. "He sat up real late not saying a word."
That day was the first of many that Tenny and Rachel spent together that summer. They explored the valley looking for the different rocks that Caleb told them about. Some days Scud would take them to his secret places, dens with baby foxes, hawks nests up on the ridge, and spots in the stream where there was always a big fish waiting to be caught. But mostly, Tenny and Rachel would spend their time together just learning about each other.
By early September the days were getting shorter and Tenny would make most of his trips home in the dark. One morning on his way to the valley, Rachel met him on the trail, halfway up the ridge. She looked beautiful. She had on the same old flour sack dress, but her hair was tied up in a bright red ribbon, and her smile was more radiant than ever. She was carrying two big baskets.
By noon they had the baskets half-filled and stopped to eat the lunch Rachel had prepared. They took little notice of a large bank of clouds building in the western sky. By mid-afternoon they had filled the baskets and were stretched out on the hillside when it started to rain. Quickly, they grabbed the baskets and ran up the hill to the cover of a rock ledge that jutted out over a small cave. A fallen tree blocked the cave entrance, but enough of the ledge was exposed to protect them from the pelting raindrops. Just as he reached the ledge, Tenny heard the roar, and saw the movement of the bear at the same time. It was at the other end of the ledge, fifty feet away, and coming toward them.
By now, Rachel was shaking violently. Tenny put his arms around her and pulled her close to him, trying to share some of the warmth of his body. As he looked into her eyes, he could see the tears streaming down her face.
"I have never been so scared, Tenny. I thought the bear was going to get us."
She looked up into his face and their lips met in a soft, gentle, warm kiss, that neither attempted to break. They kissed again, this time with the passion of wanting each other completely. Tenny could feel himself harden with desire as Rachel pressed her body against him.
"We should take off these wet clothes," she whispered, as she lifted the sack dress over her head. Her body glistened with the wetness that had soaked through. Tenny was riveted to the sight of her perfect body. Her small firm breasts hardened to his touch as she started to take off his sodden garments. He felt the throbbing pressure growing between his legs and started to pull her closer. She came willingly to him. He ran his hands down her body as she started a rhythmic movement. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and pulled her body upward, wrapping her legs around his waist. Tenny felt him entering her and joining in the rocking motion of their bodies. The pressure built as they moved rapidly back and forth until Tenny could control it no longer. He exploded inside her as she dug her fingers into his back and let out a small scream. Suddenly, the pressure was gone and their bodies relaxed completely. They lay down on the wet clothes and immediately fell asleep.
Tenny was the first to awake. He gazed fondly at her slim body curled up in his arms. He had never experienced such joy. The discovery of the pleasures of her body and the feelings he had were overwhelming. As he stirred, she slowly awoke and rolled herself on top of him.
"Now, it's my turn," she said as she slowly ran her fingers over his body, massaging him ever so lightly. As her hands moved lower, he felt himself start to swell again. Slowly, she stroked his hardness, first with her fingers, and then with her tongue. Tenny was determined to control the building pressure and make these sensations last. When he thought he could stand it no longer, Rachel straddled his body and guided him inside her. Slowly, she rocked back and forth, breathing rapidly. Tenny could see in the dim light of the cave that her face was flushed and her eyes were glazing over. She was moaning softly, then louder, as she rocked harder driving him deeper. Suddenly, she let out a scream, and Tenny could hold out no longer. He felt the release from his body as she collapsed on top of him.
They lay in each others arm until Rachel turned to him and said. "You've never done this before, have you?"
"No. How did you know?"
"I could tell."
"You've done it?"
"Sometimes in my mother's village some of will do it when we get together. This wasn't the same. It was just you and me and it was different somehow."
They had forgotten about the bear, but now, a noise outside the cave brought the memories of their escape rushing back. They huddled together, not daring to move.
It was Scud.
"We're in the cave," Rachel shouted. "A bear chased us in here."
"Bear gone," came the answer.
Quickly, they pulled on their still damp clothes and squirmed their way back out through the tangle of roots into the last remains of daylight. Surprisingly, the full baskets of berries were still where they had abandoned them. The path seemed much longer as they trudged behind Scud back to the point on the trail where they had met this morning. It was only a few hours ago, but so much had changed that it seemed like a lifetime to Tenny. Rachel pressed a soft kiss to his lips as they parted, and Tenny began his long night trek back to the village.
Summer faded into autumn, as the days grew shorter. Never before had Tenny been so aware of the beauty in the colors of this season. It seemed to him that all his senses were keener, especially when he was with Rachel, which was more often. He had decided to open the store only two days a week and spend the rest of his time with her. Every time they were together they made love, finding new ways and places to expand their joy.
"My mother will be coming soon to take me home to our village," Rachel announced one day.
"Can you not stay here, or come live with me at the store. I don't want to be away from you until next year."
"No, Tenny. My mother would not allow it. I must go back."
Tenny could sense the sad determination in her voice.
A few days later, when he returned to the valley, she was gone.
As winter descended on the land, Tenny made a few more trips to visit Caleb and Scud, but without Rachel, his heart wasn't in it. He took them some supplies after the first blizzard of the season, and told them he wouldn't be back until spring. It was a lonely winter for Tenny. Gladys kept to her bed and spoke little, and although the village girls still came to visit him, Tenny showed little interest in them.
Spring was late, delaying its arrival with sudden snow squalls and torrential rains. Tenny spent most of his time at the store looking after the small amount of daily business and reading the limited supply of books he was able to collect. One that had particularly held his interest was a thin volume extolling the beauty and opportunities of the lands to the west along the Pacific Ocean. It told of rich farmlands, practically available for the taking, the lush vegetation and the mild healthy climate. California was according to this book a true Garden of Eden. Tenny had heard a few of the people in the village talking about folks they knew that had sold everything and made the long journey to this new land. Then, there was that story in the Springfield paper inviting people to join a group planning to band together and make the trek west. But Tenny knew he couldn't pick up and go to California. He had Gladys and the store to look after and he didn't want to go without Rachel. Besides, he knew nothing about farming.
One evening in May just after he'd closed the store, he heard a heavy knock at the front door. To his surprise, it was Scud. For minutes they stood looking at each other without words. Finally, Scud spoke. "Rachel here."
Tenny looked to Scud's hand, which held a rope, and beyond to the dark outline of a horse and rider.
"You are surprised to see me," Rachel said as she struggled to dismount from the horse. Tenny couldn't understand why it was so difficult for her, and why she needed Scud's help to reach the ground. Then he saw in the dim light how she had increased in size, her body extended to the front.
"I am going to have our baby," she said.
Tenny stood there without speaking as Scud helped Rachel into the store and had her sit by the stove.
"When will the baby come out?" Tenny managed to stammer.
"I don't know. I can stay with Pa and Scud, but it's not very good out there having a new baby. I was hoping I could stay with you."
In an instant, Tenny's life had been totally changed. He wanted to be with Rachel, but to be a father was an overwhelming thought. But, he couldn't change that. He would be a father. He couldn't just walk away from it like he had been told his own father did. And, what about Gladys, would she object? Then, he realized how foolish that concern was. Gladys was hardly aware of anything that went on around her. And the people of the village, he didn't really care what they thought. They were kind to a point, but they had given up visiting Gladys long ago, and showed little interest in his or her welfare. As all these thoughts churned around in his mind as Rachel and Scud sat quietly and watched him.
Finally, he said. "I want you to live with me, and we will raise the baby together. We will go to the valley tomorrow and bring all your things here. It is getting late. I will fix a bed here in the store for Scud, and we will get an early start in the morning."
That night they lay entwined in each others arms, whispering quietly about their hopes and dreams and their life together. It took all the next day to move Rachel's meager possessions to the store. Gladys seemed to understand what was happening, but seemed oblivious to it. Rachel had been given a horse by her mother's people, which she rode in on the first trip to the valley and out on the last as the shadows of evening descended. As he was ready to leave to go home, Scud put both hands on Tenny's shoulder and looked at him intently as he said. "We come to see baby. You tell us."
Melissa Woods arrived with the full moon of May. Rachel labored all night and, with the help of neighbor women, Tenny was able to help ease her considerable pain by being with her and holding her hand. Even Gladys arose from her bed to take part in the birth of her granddaughter. The next day Tenny hiked to the valley to give Caleb and Scud the news.
The summer of '42 was idyllic. Tenny and his little family were inseparable. The townsfolk remarked on the happiness and joy at the store. More and more often, Gladys joined them, doting on the baby, although, in her confusion, she always referred to Melissa as Tenny. Tenny began to feel his life was almost complete. But, he couldn't shake the feelings of restlessness that made him wish for a more exciting existence. Rachel sensed these feelings and, for a long time, said nothing. Then late in the autumn, Gladys passed on. She simply went to sleep one night and didn't awake the following morning. All the town's people turned out to hear the preacher say a few words, and Tenny laid her body to rest in a small plot behind the store.