Everyone who had ever lived there referred to Trapper's creation in the feminine, just as if the great house, cloaked by oak and mountain shadow, was a ship at sea.
"She's a fine house, Pearl," said Trapper. "Built with my own hands and filled with your mother's good taste. You must take care of her now." Pearl was 10 and mourning the death of Mama from childbed fever. Mama, who was a school teacher and knew French words, screamed and screamed, then whispered all through the night "I do not want to die, I do not!" A tiny brother was lost also. Lily was 8 and did not speak for months afterwards,
not until Pearl convinced her that whispering to the
potted plants would help them blossom.
Whatever watched from the house that awful day, alone, wretched, unearthly, whatever watched was not surprised when Lily was abducted by John Morgan. He reached down from his buggy just as Lily stepped out of the front orchard, grabbed her about the waist, and drove off, the bright ribbons of Pearl's bonnet snapping like angry snakes.
John's head pounded from his first night of drinking like a man. His blood-shot eyes were blinded by the hot morning sun. He'd seen that Indian boy pawing Pearl yesterday evening. John was riding home from dinner and
a prayer meeting at the Gustavson's, and rather than shoot the bastard there and then, he'd gone into town and drunk whisky to ease the searing image of Washo's hands on Pearl's bosom, his hips thrusting into hers, her long skirt bunched up behind her, pinned against a mossy boulder. By dawn John's mouth was bitterly dry. He spread the word that Rivercomb was a scoundrel and a masher intent on raping the Butterfield girl, then drove to Trapper's Mansion determined
have it out with Pearl.
At first Lily denied she'd had carnal relations. "He was a dream lover! My dream lover." Then she denied that she was Pearl, and only when the bonnet fell back against her neck as she wept, did John Morgan realize he'd grabbed the wrong sister. Enraged at such defilement by a mongrel gypsy ranch hand, John Morgan dumped Lily onto the road and told her to walk her filthy way back and be damned. He sped off,
the snap of his whip over the tired horses echoing in Lily's ears as she stumbled home.