Snakes and Pills

160 - toot drain

Gravel crunched under the wagon's wheels as they slowly came to a halt. Bethany peered out from under the wide brim of her hat to see where the convoy had stopped now.

Another completely unremarkable frontier town. At first, there had been novelty for her. She was used to the built-up cities back east. Now, all these settlements blended together. One main dusty street, lined with businesses that those on the frontier needed. Outfitters, saloons, blacksmiths, brothels.

"Excuse me, where are we?" Bethany inquired upon the driver of her personal stagecoach.

"Sulley's Gulch," the driver answered in a matter-of-fact fashion. All of these towns were named in a similarly unremarkable way, either for a local landmark or the man who founded the place. Sometimes for both.

"Will we stay for long?" she asked. Occasionally the wagon train parked for hours, but if the business to be conducted in the town was short, the layover might be just a few minutes.

"Indeed, ma'am. We need to stock up on some fresh supplies and give the horses a chance to rest," he answered. "Should be at least an hour or two."

"Would it be all right if I took Milton for a stroll around, then? He's been cooped up in this coach all day," Bethany lamented.

"I think that'd be fine. Don't worry, I'll make sure we don't leave without you. This town is a pretty safe one, too." He shot her a smile and a quick wink. "As safe as they come in these parts, anyway."

Bethany smiled back. She had certainly encountered much worse men in her life.

She patted the upholstered cushion a few times. "Come along, Milton!" she lightly ordered.

Her son sprang to his feet and heeded his mother's command. Bethany opened the door to the stagecoach, and carefully stepped out from the vehicle. Few women on the frontier kept up the dignified standards she was accustomed to, and she was starting to understand why. The instant her hair and linens contacted the air, they were contaminated with dust and grime.

Still, she tried to maintain her appropriate grace. Milton, being only four years old, was not encumbered by such duties. He leapt out of the stagecoach, and she was happy to see him act with some energy. Much of his life was marked by great lethargy, which was of constant concern for her.

Milton was quite glad to have the chance to get out of the hot and bumpy stagecoach. He gazed upon Sulley's Gulch. "Where should we go, Mama?" he asked.

"How about we head to the outfitters and see if they have any sweets for sale?" Bethany suggested. Milton's eyes lit up.

"If they do, can we buy some?!" he eagerly pleaded.

"Perhaps, if you're good," she offered. Milton was always good. But she knew that there was little chance of having to uphold her end of the bargain. People out here rarely came into sugar.

Milton took his mother's hand and the two strolled down the well-worn planks of the sidewalk. He looked around at everything with infinite curiosity. The novelty of these places had not yet worn off for him.

He was especially interested in several horses tied up to a hitching post. "Whose horses are those, Mama?" he wondered. "Maybe the sheriff's. I'm not sure, Milton," Bethany answered. He never would have accepted her answer if she simply said that she didn't know.

"Is this going to be our new home?" Milton asked unexpectedly, and Bethany paused in her step. She wondered, now more than ever, if she was doing the right thing. Or was this entire journey a total mistake?

"No, I don't think so," Bethany answered. "But maybe someday we can come back and visit."


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