Grace saw the rider approaching from a long way off. The dog’s barking drew her attention to him. Maybe he had news from back East.
She called to her toddler, “Go inside Sally. Wait for me there.” Sally ran to Grace with the little sack of meal. “We’ll feed the chickens later, Hon.” She caressed her cheek.
Sally’s gaze followed Shep’s bark. “Who is that, Mommy? Don’t like him.”
“I don’t like him either. Stay inside and I’ll send him off.” She patted her bottom. “Go on, now. You wait for me.”
Grace followed the girl inside. She checked her pistol and hid it in her skirts. Can’t be too careful these days. Or any days. She carried a bucket down to the well. Still barking, Shep scampered along to let anyone within ear-shot know his estimation of this stranger.
She always wished Ben had put the well nearer the cabin. He reckoned the animals needed more watering than his family did. He sunk the well where the livestock could be tended with the least trouble. He never seemed to afford the time to dig a second well. Chores filled each day.
They made do, though. All in all, things ran fairly smooth. They always had enough to get through the winter.
She got back up to the cabin before the stranger pulled up and dismounted. She’d even time to stoke the fire. The place looked a mess. But he wouldn’t expect the Vanderbilt’s.
She called the dog off. It continued to circle around in anxious anticipation.
Wearing a black suit and a string tie, he clapped the dust off before approaching. Despite his clothes, Grace knew he was no preacher. She just knew.
Why did Ben need to be in town today? She hoped he would hurry back. His presence always made her feel protected. No dispute went on for long with Ben, as everyone knew where they stood. He would say their door swung both in and out. No hard feelings.
When he held her there was nothing they couldn’t face.
The stranger strode toward her and she stood her ground. His smile flashed like lightning.
“Can I help you?”
“I want to help you.”
She held his gaze. “I don’t want help.”
“You might when I explain what I can do for you.”
“What’s the cost?”
“Not a thing. Well, nothing of value.”
She couldn’t place his accent. He wasn’t a local in appearance or voice.
“What’re you selling?”
“Hear me out. I come from… you might say I come from the future.”
“Uh huh. What, New York? Someplace like that?”
“Future time. It’s difficult to explain…”
“What do you want with us?”
“I want to share things with you. Make your life infinitely easier.”
“I saw you drawing water. In the future, we have indoor plumbing.”
She cocked her head.
“With the turn of a knob, you could have hot or cold water straight into your sink. Or soak in a hot bath.”
She sniffed. “Keep talking…”
“Cleaning clothes or your child is easy and healthful. Waste water runs safely down the drain.” He smiled again. “We have fuel for your stove. Chopping wood is a thing of the past. You can heat your home in the winter. Even cook a meal with the push of a button.”
She felt herself drawn to this fantastic world. How could this be? She stepped back.
“With electricity, you can keep food fresh by chilling it. And cool your whole house in the summer.”
“Sounds like a load of hogwash to me.”
He did not hesitate. “I understand. Had I not seen it, I too would think it impossible.”
“Oh no, there’s much more. With motorized transport you can drive to town in minutes, run your errands and be home in an hour.”
This was incomprehensible. How different life would be. More than bare survival.
The stranger stepped closer. “Interested? Every day brings some fantastic innovation to our lives.”
Grace shook her head.
“I haven’t told you about the electronic communications devices you could have in hand. Access to the whole world… Imagine?”
He stifled a chuckle. “You could talk with a friend back East. Or listen to a concert of professional musicians… all the way from Europe…”
This was too much.
“I detect your interest…”
She casually ensured her pistol remained handy. “You didn’t tell me the cost…”
He shrugged, “Oh, that. From our perspective, it would cost only your burdens and cares.”
“We avoid human contact.”
“What?” His unexpected answer shook her.
“Life can be so efficient without the constant attending to another’s needs.”
“I would be alone?”
“There are always friends to talk with on those devices I described.”
“But Sally? My Ben?”
“You would soon see how much healthier it is to keep one’s distance. So much cleaner. Sickness can be so complicated. So tragic.”
“I need people in my life. What about church?”
“No. Churches are obsolete. Large groups became impractical.”
“People can’t live in isolation. You said there’s a device. To see around the world…”
“Yes, but churches are closed. Preachers have no purpose. Talk with whomever you wish. But no weddings. No funerals… So much better that way.”
Why had Ben not returned? He should be here. Grace turned to see Sally in the doorway. She waved her back.
The stranger sighed. She turned back to him, ready to charge.
“My, but aren’t you are a devil? Listen to you, spinning stories. Like Rumpelstiltskin. So many promises, so many lies.”
“I assure you, it’s all true. An awesome future awaits.”
“I’ll pass. Leave. Now.”
He smiled with condescension. “You have no idea… The wonders you are passing up… Perhaps I was unclear… I could…”
Grace pulled the pistol and trained it on him. The hammer cocking seemed loud.
“You offer the world in exchange for all that makes life worth living?”
His smile flashed again. “You made your point, Mrs…?” She let the question hang. “I won’t take more of your time.”
Keeping his eyes upon her, he backed to his horse.
Grace held her gaze. Her pistol did not waver.
Shep took off running down the trail. The stranger turned to look. Grace held her aim. Ben had returned.
The stranger realized she had not been distracted. “I won’t keep you longer. You have company.” He mounted his horse which reared in protest. He turned, kicked it and galloped past Ben.
Grace put up her pistol and smiled at Ben. He dismounted and she ran to his embrace.
Sally ran to them. “Daddy!”
He swept the girl into his arms. Looking back down the trail, “Who…?”
“One of those mountebanks. You know, selling smoke and mirrors.”
Grace looked at Ben intently. “Get ready. Let’s go to the barn dance at Jensen’s.”
“That’s tonight? Yes! Let’s go.”
Ben hitched the wagon and they drove to their neighbor’s for the monthly hoe-down. They always looked forward to laughing and eating with their friends. They danced close, like never before. All night long.