Ethan shot his hands up into the air before he nodded toward the woman at his feet. The man on horseback relaxed and waved his gun casually in the woman’s direction. Ethan bent down slowly, and lifted Jill’s head from the grass. “Miss Lucas. Jill.” He spoke softly, and while he held her head up with one hand, he set down his briefcase to put his other hand on her cheek in a soft caress. Jill fluttered her eyelids before she opened them. She saw him and smiled before she screamed.
The horse bucked. The man on horseback had to turn the animal to keep from trampling the couple even as he grabbed tight with his knees to keep his seat.
“What are you doing here?” Jill clenched her teeth in an attempt to whisper.
“I don’t even know where here is!” Ethan shouted before he also whispered. “We have company.” He shook his head in the big man’s direction as he helped Jill to her feet. He noticed she slipped the watch-thing into her lab coat pocket.
“Yes,” Ethan said. He raised his hands again the moment he was upright. He felt the nervous perspiration that covered his hands, and the cool air chilled the sweat on his forehead. It made him feel like he had a fever. Oddly enough, his tongue felt completely dry.
“How did you come to cross my farm?” The man shut one eye to scrutinize them more closely.
“Accidental,” Jill said as she stepped to the front. “My name is Jill Lucas, and this is my husband, Ethan.”
“Husband?” Ethan blurted the word.
“Husband?” The man on horseback’s question came a second later, even as Jill stepped back and slipped her arms around Ethan. Ethan had to lower his hands, but otherwise he thought this was a wonderful idea. She felt as warm, comfortable and exciting as he had imagined.
“So you are married?” It seemed the man wanted to be sure he understood the language properly.
“Just married.” Jill emphasized the “just” and gave Ethan a kiss on the cheek.
“Only a week,” Ethan added. He was unable to contain his smile until Jill pinched him in the back to tell him to be quiet.
“You came out from New Amsterdam on the train?” The man on horseback looked thoughtful.
Jill nodded, so Ethan nodded. “But we don’t know your name,” Jill said, sweetly.
The man thought for a minute before he holstered his gun. “Lars Hjorth. It is too late to walk back to Hill Town tonight. Come.” He turned his horse around, and they were obliged to follow, having nowhere else to go. Besides, Ethan was not about to argue with a man who carried a six-shooter.
Jill let go of Ethan the minute Lars’ back was turned, but Ethan picked up his briefcase and took her hand, and since they were pretending to be newlyweds, she could hardly deny him. He smiled as he looked around and thought that this was his first real chance to examine this God-only-knew-where place.
He was surprised at what he saw. The oaks and maples with the occasional birch and pine looked remarkably like the trees back home. He saw a robin in flight, a squirrel that might have lived in the tree outside his own house, and the bushes were just bushes and the grass was just not suburban mowed. When they walked downhill, he saw a field of stubble in the distance that he guessed was freshly harvested corn—plain, ordinary corn, and he felt the urge to risk a whisper.
“Hush.” Jill responded rather firmly, squeezed his hand, and Ethan hushed and thought that for all the familiarity in the setting, he would never walk back home at the rear end of a horse. He turned up his nose and felt very confused about what was going on.
“Besides,” Lars spoke up loudly over the tromp of his horse and the swish of their walk through the tall grass. “You haven’t paid the toll.”
“Toll?” Ethan spoke before he could stop himself and Jill squeezed his hand extra hard.
Lars turned his head to eye the couple and closed that one eye again to look close. “Half price for newlyweds. Two gold crowns would do, though I should charge double for Anglish.” He snickered and said no more.
In a short while, Ethan saw a simple log cabin with a brick chimney where smoke promised a snug fire against the chill in the air. They had to wait at the door while Lars tied off his horse by the big barn that stood off to the side of the house. It stood, separated from the house by a tremendous vegetable garden protected by a wire mesh, designed to keep out the free range chickens that clucked and ran around the rest of what passed for a front yard. A few pigs wallowed in a nearby pen, and a bull in a fenced in area promised cattle somewhere.
Ethan thought about the cows and decided that Lars looked like a cowboy. The big man came complete with cowboy hat, boots, chaps, a lasso tied to the saddle and a six-shooter at his side. Maybe Ethan felt confused about where he was, but he could not deny the reality of either the place or the big man who stepped up to the door and slapped him on the back hard enough to make him wince and rub his shoulder.
“I see you have luggage.” Lars pointed to the briefcase clutched in Ethan’s hand.
“My work,” Ethan responded and he noticed that Jill barely kept her foot from kicking him in the shins. Obviously, she wanted him to shut-up. He looked at her closely and wondered what she knew that he did not know. Sure, she was Grimly’s assistant, but as far as he knew, this was her first trip to God-only-knew-where too.
“Angelica!” Lars hollered from the doorway and then turned to the couple when they came into a living room with a cathedral ceiling that was lit up by a great fire and several oil lamps. A kitchen, and a long table for eight sat at the far end of the room, and a hallway in the middle of the back wall led to some back bedrooms. A staircase on the back wall led up to a loft that overlooked the high-ceilinged room and was open, but for a railing. The loft looked full of junk, as far as Ethan could see around the great bearskin rug that hung over the railing. “My wife was Anglish once,” Lars explained, regaining Ethan’s attention. “Angelica!”
Ethan heard a door click shut in the back of the house and the shuffling of slippers on a plain wood floor in the hallway before a round, older woman came into the room. She tried to push back a long strand of hair that had escaped the bun on her head. She said something in that singsong language, and Lars responded in kind while he hung his hat and chaps on hooks by the door. He looked once at the couple and squinted with that eye before he took himself and his gun down the hall.
“You are Anglish?” The woman looked directly at Ethan. “And what business has brought you into New Sweden? My husband said you came out from New Amsterdam.” She had a welcoming smile, but she was clearly not satisfied with what she had heard thus far concerning their sudden appearance.
“We are newlyweds, but we found the city too stifling.” She sounded so reasonable as she spoke, Ethan wondered how anyone could question her. “My husband and I wanted to spend some time in the country, just the two of us, and the train ride to Hill Town was fun.” She stepped over to Ethan and curled up in his arms. Ethan was so pleased with this charade; he could not help acting like a lovesick puppy. He kissed her, smack on the lips, and she was obliged to kiss him back.