The clatter of pottery shattering into a basin brought Esther running from the parlor.
“Aubrey, I swear, if you’ve broke another mug…”
Her anger evaporated when she realized Aubrey was staring at something out the window.
“Mama,” the girl whispered, “there’s a man out there.”
Esther squinted through the leaded glass. Standing just inside her gate was a huge man with a bushy black beard. His horse was tied up beyond the fence, and he was holding his hat in his hands.
Sure. She’d seen that trick before.
“Stay here. If there’s trouble, go get Curtis.”
And she took shotgun from over the door, tossed her graying black braid over her shoulder, and went to meet the stranger.
“Morning, ma’am,” he called as she strode toward him. Esther observed with some satisfaction that he took a nervous step backward at the sight of her and her leveled shotgun. “I’m not here to make trouble. I’m just looking for the man of the house.”
“Ain’t a man – hasn’t been one for near two years now. What do you want?”
“I’m a fur trader, and with your permission I’d like to –”
“Son, do you know who’s house you’re at?”
The man blinked. “No, ma’am, I’m sorry –”
“I’m Esther Short. My husband and I came here when all this place had was a fort full of British who wanted us gone. I damn near started a war by slapping one of ’em. That ring any bells?”
“Well, sure.” He chuckled nervously. “You scared off the whole Hudson’s Bay Company with that stunt.”
“Amos and I worked hard. We had over six hundred acres to call our own, and every time they burned down our cabin, we rebuilt and kept working.” She lowered the shotgun. “Usually, strange men at my gate means trouble, so I hope you’ll forgive the welcome.”
He smiled a little, relaxing. “Not the first fur trader asking to use your land, I’ll bet.”
She patted the gun’s stock. “You’re also not the first person to come here pretending to be someone he’s not.”
He smirked, sending a warning shiver up Esther’s back. “How’d you know?”
“For one thing, those are the fanciest boots I’ve ever seen on a fur trader.”
He chuckled. “What can I say? The US government pays well.”
Esther’s finger crept towards the trigger. “What interest does the United States have in me?”
“Missus Short, some of your six hundred acres are of very strategic interest to us. We know you own a portion of the riverfront, and its proximity to the fort makes it especially valuable.”
“Well, it ain’t for sale. I have plans for it.”
He continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “We also know that your husband – apologies, ma’am, your late husband – did a couple things he maybe wasn’t proud of a few years back. Talk to us about selling that special waterfront, we’ll talk about clearing those murders from his record.”
“They weren’t murders,” Esther spat. “He was defending his family and property!”
“I’m afraid there’s a possibility the government might see different, which might bring…difficulties to the rest of your family.”
She raised the shotgun. Inside the house, another mug clattered – Aubrey, bless her, running for help.
Not that her mama would need it.
The stranger was already backing up towards the gate. “You come here and try to blackmail me in front of my own house?” she snarled. “This land ruled in our favor before – how do you think it’ll rule now? My husband and I invented Vancouver! I built its first hotel! I started a restaurant! You think history will frown on him for defending what was his?”
He fumbled with the latch and scrambled to untie his horse. Esther didn’t relent. “You know what I’m gonna do with that waterfront? I’m giving it to my city. Donating it. Hell, I’ll even give ’em a big parcel to turn into a park!”
He mounted his horse, shaking his head. “What do you think, four acres?” she shouted after him as he galloped away. “How ’bout five?”
And he was gone. Curtis came around the corner at a dead run, halting when he saw his mother still standing.
“Ma? What was that about?”
Esther handed him the shotgun and stretched. “Just a bully. Saddle Daisy for me, would you? I’ve got to go talk to someone about how to make a park.”
(Edit: I changed a character name after publication after the awesome folks at yeahwrite corrected me on Jerusha’s gender, oops. Curtis was Esther’s eldest son and as far as I’ve been able to tell, he never married. Esther did, in fact, slap a representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and her husband did totally shoot a couple dudes. Bonus fun fact about Jerusha: she was married to one Andrew J. Bolon, whose death in eastern Washington both made him the first law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty in Washington and led to the outbreak of the Yakima War. Thank you for reading and commenting!)