It was on a Saturday afternoon in early June when Marguerite became aware of Josey Watson, who was visiting Charley's Mother. After lunch she had stopped at Myrick's store to buy toweling material for the hotel. There, at the clothing counter stood Charley's mother, Eliza. Beside her stood an exceptionally beautiful woman. Not wanting a confrontation with Eliza, Marguerite cautiously moved to a side aisle, maintaining a safe distance. Eliza's loud voice carried throughout the store. Much later Marguerite was to suspect the excessive timbre of her voice was intentional.
"Charley will love that scarf and hat, Josey! Why don't you try on the silk cape?"
At the mention of Charley, Marguerite's curiosity piqued. From a corner of the room she studied the woman closely. The newcomer was tall, a true blond, with pale blue eyes and a perfect alabaster complexion. Her heavy fall of honey colored hair hung in soft folds about her shoulders. She was fashionably dressed in a pale blue silk dress that exuded a cool graciousness. Marguerite realized the woman had poise and presence. It was also obvious that she was several years older than herself.
Then it struck! She was shocked and bewildered. What has this woman to do with Charley? She felt her cheeks suddenly burning with embarrassment. Keeping her distance until Eliza and the woman completed their purchases and left, she approached the store owner. "Frank, who was that attractive blond woman accompanying Mrs. Brown?"
Myrick beamed, "Eliza introduced her as Mrs. Watson. I've never seen her before, but I've heard she's visiting at Eliza's. She's certainly attractive -- must be a friend of hers from back east. What can I do for you?"
Marguerite was momentarily in a quandary. "Oh, I was just looking around. I'll stop by when I have more time." She hurriedly left the store, leaving Myrick puzzled over her sudden departure.
A gradual foreboding overtook her and she began to shake so badly that she could hardly walk. She knew she must force herself to act as if nothing was wrong, yet, she sensed a deep hurt coming. Turning toward the hotel she realized she hadn't purchased the necessary toweling material. She had promised Mrs. Geroux to hem up another dozen towels for the hotel. Shaking her head in frustration she determined to do it on Monday. What has that woman to do with Charley? Does he know she's in town? She was aware of his faults, his often rejection of her suggestions that seemingly amounted to disinterest. To her, their sexual relations were serious and exciting. Yet sometimes, she felt that to him, they were only a release of his emotions. When they were together it seemed he always wanted to possess her, yet they never took trips in the company of others, excepting Susan and Ian. He seemed less interested in marriage as the months passed, and she was beginning to feel used.
She felt she had not given Paul false hopes, nor had she led him on intentionally. Yet she had taken advantage of his good nature and friendship. He had been a distraction from Charley; he was handsome, a good conversationalist and seemed sincere in his proposal of marriage.
Arriving at the hotel she found things at a standstill. Checking the dining room she satisfied herself that the table settings were complete. Turning to the kitchen she found Mrs. Geroux and the cook discussing the evening meal.
"Will you help serve tonight, Marguerite? We'll be short. Roxy is visiting relatives in Winnipeg. I have only Florence to help."
"Sure thing! It's Saturday and the dining room will probably be full, customers should be arriving soon. When will Florence be here?"
"Quite soon, I hope." Mrs. Geroux turned to the stove and began adding milk to a large pot of fluffy mashed potatoes.
Reentering the empty dining room Marguerite felt tense and confused. Taking a chair near the entrance she felt she must sort out her feelings. Does Charley know about this blond woman? He must, she's evidently staying at his Mother's. When did she arrive? How long has she been here? She realized she hadn't seen Charley since the previous Sunday when he took her to dinner at the Pembina House. She knew that on each Saturday night he worked until closing time at the saloon. Debating with herself, she decided that when she finished with this evenings work she would stop by to see him.
It was after 9 p.m. when the tables were finally cleared and Marguerite felt free to leave the dining room. Stopping in front of the saloon she could see John working near the window. Tapping on the glass gently, she caught his attention. Smiling at her, he turned away, moments later Charley stepped from the door. The warm smile on his face was encouraging as he closed with her, grasping her shoulders possessively. "Something wrong? What's up?"
She felt emboldened. "Are you free tomorrow afternoon? It promises to be a lovely day. A picnic would be a grand idea."
"That's wonderful! I'm all for it! How about picking you up early tomorrow afternoon at your place. Leaning forward, he attempted to kiss her.
Although it was nearly dark, she quickly glanced in each direction. Seeing no one, she pressed to him in a fervent embrace. Finally pulling away, she ran her hand over his cheek in a caress. "Fine, I'll pack a lunch. It'll be our first picnic of the season." Turning, she began walking toward the bridge, pausing momentarily to turn and blow him a kiss.
Arriving at Marguerite's home the following afternoon he dismounted near the house to find the door suddenly opened by Marguerite's Mother. "I heard your horse. Gosh, Charley, you haven't been over here all winter. You and Ian used to visit often."
"Annette, it’s been a long hard winter; I hardly left the store. But it's been a grand spring. It's so warm Marguerite and I are going picnicking this afternoon."
"So she told me; she's in the kitchen putting things together."
"How has Joseph been behaving?" Charley knew of her husband's addiction to alcohol.
"No different than usual. We manage quite well. I still work at the fort and the pay is adequate. The girls help too."
"Mother!" Marguerite's voice came from the kitchen. "Can you spare a bottle of your dandelion wine? Charley favors it."
Annette smiled at Charley. "I'm glad you do. I have to keep it hidden from Joseph."
As Charley followed her to the kitchen, Annette said, "Sure honey, you know where I hide the bottles."
Marguerite turned to Charley with an impish smile. "You're early, I didn't expect you this soon."
"Better early than late. I saved my appetite for the picnic."
"There'll be plenty to eat. Just give me a couple of minutes to change clothes. You and Mom can chat."
Minutes later Charley assisted her into the buggy and turned the horse toward the ferry. Marguerite reached out to cover his hand with hers. "Are we going south of the fort?"
"It's up to you. Would you rather go to Fern Valley?" 1
"South of the fort would be just fine." Mischievously she said, "Do you think the river will be warm enough for swimming?"
"You really mean it?" He looked at her in surprise.
"Are you afraid of being compromised by me?" She was smiling.
Guiding the horse down the hill toward the ferry, he smiled as he faced her. "I'll take any of your dares."
"Then it's a done deal!" She squeezed his hand.
While crossing on the ferry Charley stepped from the buggy to visit with the ferryman. Marguerite heard some discussion of the river depth, but her mind dwelled on plans of her own. She decided not to mention the mysterious Mrs. Watson until it was time to return home; that would be soon enough. After leaving the ferry and gaining the top of the hill, Charley commented, "Gosh, it's warm, must be in the 80's -- unusual for May."
Marguerite laughed lightly, "I ordered this fine day; don't you believe in my powers?"
"I'll believe in them when we get out to the old dugout. It seems eons since that night you came to my quarters. I missed you the next morning. When did you slip away?"
She tossed her head saucily, "I couldn't wake you up; I knew you were exhausted. That trip to Detroit must have been horrible."
"I was lucky to deliver my prisoner before I blacked out. If it had happened on the train he probably would have escaped."
Nearing the fort he took the west road to avoid entering the post.
"Mother says Captain Collins plans to erect a water tower and run piping to all the buildings."
"It's about time. The steam pump works fine in the summer, but in the winter water has to be hauled up the hill in barrels. It's cold, wet, miserable work. The army winter clothes issued at the fort just aren’t adequate for this north country."
"Look, the striped gophers are out," exclaimed Marguerite.
"I hear they're called Richardson ground squirrels. Some say they're just as tasty as the tree variety."
She turned to Charley with a wry look, "Oh, Charley, you don't mean that!"
"If you'd ever have been confined in Libby Prison during the war, you'd not shun rats. I've even been bitten by them."
A repulsive expression appeared on Marguerite's face. Arriving at the Indian dugout, she exclaimed in dismay. "Oh look! The roof has finally fallen in. It was fine last year."
"Just a matter of time. I 'spect that old hillside shelter was originally built by Indians. Spring floods have taken their toll; another spring of high water and most signs of it will be gone."
"Shall we leave the buggy here and walk the rest of the way?"
"Shucks, we might as well drive a tad farther. It's still a half mile to the bend in the river."
Moments later, just as Charley drew the horse to a stop along the high bank, a crow swooped up from the river pursued by two blackbirds. As they watched the two harry their enemy, Charley said, "They sure put the run to that bird; it probably tried to rob their nest in the willows."
Stepping down he grasped Marguerite's hand, steadying her step from the buggy. Bending, he wrapped the reins around a buggy spoke, and then said, "End of the line! I'll carry the lunch basket; you take the blankets. Watch it! The bank is steep!"
"Charley Brown! I've walked down dozens of riverbanks. How puny do you think I am?"
Chuckling, he said, "That long tight skirt you're wearing wasn't made for roughing it."
Bending over, she grasped the bottom edges of her skirt and petticoat, raising them daringly to her thighs. "Now do I look capable?"
He shook his head admiringly, "Nice ankles, trim legs and shapely thighs -- you'll do!"
Smiling, she picked up the two blankets from the buggy seat before starting down the steep bank toward the river. Grasping the picnic basket he followed her down to a level spot just above the water.
Glancing around, he said, "It's not likely anyone will disturb us. We're all alone."
"Here, help me spread the blanket." After smoothing out the creases, she asked, "Are you hungry? Do you want to eat now?" Suddenly she looked dismayed, "Shoot! I forgot my sketchpad. I wanted to do a frontal view of you."
He gave her a teasing look, as she began to release her long braids. Shaking her head she loosened the mass, which fell over her shoulders, almost to her waist. He noted small beads of perspiration had gathered on her forehead.
His desire came suddenly, like a flood. Stepping forward quickly, he took her in his arms in a frenzied embrace. Almost moaning, he murmured, "I'm hungry, you bet! But not for food. It's been so long!"
His repeated kisses awoke a response in her that could not be denied. The reaction was mutual as they eased to the blanket, oblivious to their surroundings, yielding to their need. Amid grasping and groping their clothes were disposed of and Marguerite finally gasped, "Oh yes! Oh yes! It's been so long!"
Clinging together they reached a violent, spasmodic finale, and after long satisfying moments their movements finally ceased. Looking down into her eyes, Charley noted they were filled with tears. "Love, what is it?"
She moved her fingers across her face, wiping away the droplets, all the while looking up at him wonderingly.
"It's as close to heaven as I'll ever get. Oh, Charley, was it as wonderful for you?"
Leaning down to kiss her, he nuzzled her lips. "Yes, and just think, the rest of the day is ours."
After they ate, they lay back dreamily until she finally said, "Let me up; I've got to go behind the bushes."
Rolling to the side he watched her lazily as she walked behind a clump of willows. He watched as she returned, marveling at her sleek body. Her legs were long and shapely, much like a thoroughbred racehorse. Her stomach was flat and taut, her buttocks firm. Her breasts were full, nipples high and proud. He knew then that he had never seen a body as beautiful.
While still some distance from him she picked up a clump of damp clay from a crevasse. Picking off a small bit, she pelted his behind. "Come on, we're going swimming now."
He teased, "Water's pretty cold, honey."
Still smiling, she threw another clod at him, swinging her arm with vigor.
"Ouch, that hurt! Quit it!"
The third chunk caught him in mid-thigh. With a roar he arose to grab her, but she ducked, evading his clutching hands. Bursting into excited laughter she ran the few feet to the water's edge to dive gracefully far out into the murky water. Hesitating momentarily, he followed, knowing his dive was clumsy, lacking her skill.
Arising to the surface he looked around apprehensively, she was nowhere to be seen. Long seconds passed and he became worried. Finally after nearly a full minute elapsed, a head appeared far across the river. As she arose, nymph like, she swung her head to clear the hair from her face.
He yelled, "Darn it! You scared the heck out of me! I thought you might have hit your head!" His worry changed to chagrin as he slowly swam across the wide channel to join her. Finally standing waist deep in the water, he asked, "Where did you learn to swim underwater like that?"
She smiled as she wiped the moisture from her eyes. "We kids all learned to swim when we were young. It didn't make much difference, boys or girls, when we were small, but as we grew older, girls swam alone. Mother saw to that. I'm not the best swimmer -- you should see Susan. Even as we grew up, no one could catch her in the water."
"I suppose Ian knows all about that," he teased. Gathering her long fall of hair in her hands she flipped it back over her head with a sudden movement.
"Yes, he knows all about her swimming ability. She became pregnant on that same spot over there." She pointed across the river toward their blanket.
"I'll be darned! I thought their marriage was planned."
She smiled, "In a way it was; they fell in love." She looked at him seriously, "They married the very next week after the consummation. It wasn't a forced marriage; she just became pregnant that first time. She's expecting another child this fall." She studied Charley's face for long moments, hoping for a reaction. Disappointed, she finally said, "It's chilly standing here in the water. Let's cross and lie on the blanket to dry." Turning, she slipped forward into the deeper water like a sleek otter. Her head low almost submerged. He noted that as she swam, she rolled her head occasionally to gasp a breath of air.
Charley considered himself a capable, strong swimmer, but he was forced to marvel at her effortless crawl. He attempted to imitate her rolling style of breathing, only to realize it would require long practice.
After crossing the river he sank into soft, sticky mud as he stepped from the water. Seeing a portion of an old log farther up the hill he attempted to pick it free of the hard grey clay. Seeing him apparently unable to loosen the timber from the hard earth, Marguerite approached.
"What do you want with the log?"
"I'm going to put it across that strip of gumbo at the water's edge so we can wash the mud from our legs."
"Good idea! Let's do it! It's probably too heavy to lift, but perhaps we can roll it down the hill if we can work it loose."
Moments later, the two managed to free the log, rolling it down to the muddy edge of the river. Sitting on a clean portion they began washing their feet and ankles. "Oh look!" She exclaimed, "I've got something you haven't."
"A great big blood sucker is in love with me." Inserting her fingernail under the head of the parasite, she flipped it back into the water.
"Lots of them in these rivers. Doctors used them during the conflict between the states. They still use them medically, I believe."
Back on the blanket, their legs intertwined, Charley teased her long hair into a fan-shaped halo on the blanket. Looking up at him, she stroked his face tenderly. "You've got strong, high cheek bones, much like mine, but your face is longer and thinner." Her hand slipped to his one shoulder, cupping it to pull him closer.
His hand slipped to her cheek as he looked down at her. Caressing her temple wonderingly, he noted her smooth, flawless complexion. Her dark eyes seemed to devour him as she finally reached out with her other hand to grasp his other shoulder. Tugging him down, she slid her hands together locking her fingers behind his back, forcing him tightly down over her.
Their second joining was slow and gentle, long to end. When Charley attempted to roll from her she held him fiercely. "No, don't move. Stay with me -- I feel so content." She closed her eyes as if sleeping and for long moments they lay intertwined until Charley finally realized she had actually dozed off. Finally withdrawing, he carefully covered the two of them with the other blanket. As their bodies again made contact she rolled to him and her leg moved over his thigh; her arm clutched his chest as she buried her head snugly to him.
It was rapidly cooling by 5 p.m. when they finally gathered up the basket and blankets. Turning the buggy back toward town, he gazed toward her, "Where are we eating supper?"
"I'm not hungry at the moment, how about you? We didn't open the basket until nearly 3 o'clock.”
She looked at him worriedly, "Charley, I have something on my mind that I'd like to clear up. It's been bothering me.”
Smiling, he turned to her, "Well, shoot!
"Your Mother was in Myrick's store yesterday with an attractive woman. The woman made a purchase of a scarf and hat and your Mother remarked that you would just love them."
"You must mean Josey."
"Just who is she?"
"Fifteen years ago she was my intended, but when the war was over she married another. Her husband died some time back and now she's visiting my Mother."
"What is she to you now, Charley?" Her eyes studied his.
"As I said, she's visiting my Mother, I never sent for her. She has two teenage children, a boy and girl. They arrived on Thursday and I ran into the pair on the street. I escorted her over to visit Eugene that evening and I took the boy out to the farm Friday morning to entertain him. They are fine children, and seem to be well brought up."
"Are you still interested in Josey?"
"Marguerite, are you jealous?"
"You bet I am! You tell me that you two were once in love. Do you still have feelings for her?"
"You really are green-eyed, aren't you." Charley had a whimsical look on his face. "Drop it, Marguerite. I have no intention of taking her on any picnics, but I can't avoid her entirely."
Marguerite recognized approaching danger signals and to change the subject, said, "Have you food in that icebox up in your rooms? If so, I can make us a late supper." Charley put his arm about her waist.
"I would have suggested that myself, but I didn't know how you'd take it. You won't have to walk home in the cold tonight though, I'll see you safe and sound."
1: The author had this to say about where Fern Valley was at this time: Fern Valley was later the Joe O’Hara farm. When I was a kid and before it became private property, it was solid ferns with no weed. (And a beautiful camping spot.) It was on the north side of the Pembina River along the road just two miles west of Pembina. Turn south off Highway 55 and as you approach the Pembina River it’s just to the left and follows the north side of the river to the east. To my knowledge there are no ferns left there. Many people in town transplanted from there to personal yards.