She startled awake, grasping for her rifle in the dark, but Amos’s gentle hand steadied her. She exhaled slowly. Within her alarmingly large belly, the baby shifted. Esther laid a soothing hand over her stomach, though she herself wasn’t feeling very reassured. They were still sitting on their cabin’s front porch, keeping watch from the hand-hewn chairs they’d brought from the kitchen. She could barely see her husband’s profile against the night sky. They didn’t dare light a lantern, not until they knew what they were facing, but she could see he had his rifle at the ready.
“See something?” she whispered.
She leaned forward, peering into the night beyond the planks that enclosed their porch. She had recently turned forty, and her eyesight already left much to be desired. Add in her nearly full-term pregnancy, lingering summer fever, the stress of having been dragged from their home three days earlier by Hudson’s Bay Company men, and the worry over their eight children staying with friends across the Columbia, and she could see just about whatever nightmare came to mind in the silent blackness of their farm.
She’d been surprised the cabin was still standing when they returned – in the past, the HBC would have just burned it down. After all, this wasn’t the first time she and her family had been loaded into a boat at gunpoint and sent across the river by the land-hungry British. But maybe the Company had realized that tactic wasn’t working and decided to try something more permanent.
Esther wasn’t going to let that happen. She’d come here, sick, pregnant, and exhausted, to ensure her children had a home – and family – to return to.
“Amos Short!” The shout rang out from the darkness. Esther seized her rifle. Amos crouched behind the porch wall, sighting into the darkness toward the voice.
“Amos Short, this is the Company. You are trespassing on British land. Come out of your house with your hands up.”
“Think they want me, too?” Esther grumbled.
“They know you’re not worth the hassle,” he whispered teasingly.
A gunshot shattered the relative calm and sent birds shrieking out of the trees. “That’s your only warning!” the voice shouted from the dark. Esther peered over the edge of the wall. She could see lamps and torches flaring to life in a circle thirty paces from the house. The cabin was surrounded.
“You know it’s just the two of us, right?” she hollered. “Didn’t need to send the whole barracks!” There was enough torchlight now for her to see faint shadows dancing on the wall of their cabin – and the grim fury on her husband’s face. “Unless, of course, you’ve heard how good a shot my husband is…”
“Come on out now!” the man shouted. They were close enough now that Esther could hear their footsteps. She glanced at Amos, wondering if he had a plan –
Esther froze, wondering if she’d heard right. Surely they hadn’t come here to kill them – they were just here to arrest them, or send them back across the river, or simply hold them while they burned down the cabin and made them watch –
But before the rest of the Company men could even bring their guns to bear, Amos was back at the wall, rifle poised. He fired.
Esther sat with her back against the porch wall and listened to the chaos while Amos reloaded. The Company men were shouting and, if the shadows on their cabin were any indication, panicking – but no one returned fire.
One voice raised above the others. “He’s dead! Short shot him in the head!”
The shouting died away to whispers. Amos finished reloading, but stayed crouched behind the wall. Esther gripped her own rifle, ready to heave herself up. There were enough men milling around out there, she was sure to hit at least one of them.
But the whispering faded, and the torchlight dimmed. She peeked around the wall.
The farm was dark again. There was no sign anyone had ever been there.
She sank back down against the wall, sighing with relief. “Nice shot, dear.”
“Didn’t really want to kill him. There were so many, though –”
“It was us or them,” she said firmly. “This is our land now, and that’s how they chose to deal with us.”
“Think there’ll be more trouble?”
“Oh, certainly.” She stood slowly. “But I think it’s safe to take the rest of tonight off.”