Steve, Sally and Walt ran into a surprise in the middle of the sixth day east of Iowa.
Even though the temperatures were colder than on the way west, the wind was at their back, broken by the cover on the wagon. At nights they were inside.
They heard a steam whistle just east of Gridley, Illinois.
There was a locomotive, tender car and two box-cars waiting on the track beside the highway.
The merchant from Monticello, Indiana greeted the expedition. He was a hundred miles from home.
“Its not a Cadillac, but it moves” the storekeep said. His smile stretched from ear-to-ear.
It took an hour to load the horses and wagon.
Then the train started moving east at a sedate ten miles per hour. The train coasted to a stop at each mail drop, but then started back up.
It was 10 PM, local time when the train rolled into Monticello.
Three more days travel brought them to Huntington, Indiana and the Bazelwitz compound.
They planned a 36 hour lay-over and then a six day dash to Eaton Rapids.
The patron of the Bazylewicz family put Walt up with his second son, James, this time.
The expedition had spent a lay-over day with Bazylewicz on the way west and Walt had been paired with Michael, Jr. It had not been an uplifting experience.
Where Mike, Jr had been negative and defeatist, James was energetic and brimming with optimism and energy.
James projected a gravitational field that collected interesting people. One of those people was an old, retired priest, Father Casmir. Father Casmir was “forming” three young men for the priesthood. “I cannot ordain them. That takes a Bishop. But I can have them ready.”
In spite of Father Casmir’s advanced age (he was 77) he saw life through eyes that twinkled with understanding and empathy. He also seemed to be privy to every back-story in the compound.
Walt was puzzled. MichaelSenior seemed to have a purpose to everything he did, so why had he been stuck with Michael, Junior?
The story spilled out of Walt. Father Casmir gave the slightest of eyebrow raises and grunts of encouragement, just enough to assure Walt that Father Casmir was engaged by the story.
After Walt wound down, Father Casmir asked a few questions. “Would you say that Mike Jr. feels overshadowed by his father?”
“Well of course” Walt said. “Who wouldn’t?”
Father Casmir then asked, “But you said that Mike Jr. has done marvelous things.”
“Well, yeah. But look at this compound. It would be like...” Walt said, trying to think of an analogy “...like me being forty and living in a trailer behind my dad’s barn.”
Then Father Casmir drilled in. “You know, you and Steve and Sally have been topics of interest and discussion for the last month and a half. I feel like I know a little bit about you, even though this is the first time we talked.”
Walt nodded. He knew about quarantine and isolation. He knew about folks craving information and treasuring new human contacts.
“The scuttlebutt is that you have a very successful, younger brother” Father Casmir said.
Walt nodded. “He owns a limestone business. He also buys and sells oil and dyes and just started a small tannery.”
“You are what...19, maybe 20. And if he is your younger brother, how old is he?” Father Casmir asked.
“He is almost 16” Walt said, proudly.
“I think that Michael, Senior is concerned that you might let envy and bitterness poison your soul, like it poisoned his son's. You cannot see it, but he grieves for his son’s pain. I think he fears that you might feel overshadowed by your younger brother, that you might let resentment poison you and prevent you from becoming the man that God wants you to be” Father Casmir said.
The thought had never crossed Walt’s mind.
Walt, by nature, was a thoughtful man who was unflinchingly honest with himself. He could see how the risk Michael Senior feared was a possibility. He could see that at some time in the future, he might look back and see opportunities that he had not taken and blame his larger-than-life younger brother.
Truth-be-told, Walt’s part in the expedition had been arranged by Shad. The 180 pounds of black clay...that was a Shad project. Ten years from now, it might be easy to resent Shad as the puppet master who had directed Walt’s life.
There was another interesting person in the orbit of James Bazylewicz. Her name was Dona Binakowski.
Walt knew a little bit about women but it took him a couple of hours to figure out that she was flirting with HIM. It was immensely flattering. Walt had never considered himself a "lady's man. Girls tended to describe his as "plain, but steady".
He found her cupid-bow smiling extremely enticing and she flashed it his way every time he said anything. And she had dimples.
He tested it. He said something inane. She smiled at him. It was a bit disconcerting.
While he had been with the Amish, he had discovered that many of them had exceptionally droll senses of humor.
One of the Amish had a small herd of Jersey cows. “They are from Yates’ herd out of Chrisney, Indiana.” the bearded farmer said.
They were the sleekest dairy cows Walt had ever seen. Dairy cows tend to look like shower-curtains draped over a jumble of 2-by-4s with an udder hanging down. The Amish farmer's Jerseys looked like healthy animals. Yes, they had pronounced udders but they were broad of beam and carried a respectable amount of flesh on their backs and ribs.
“They are easy keepers” the Amish farmer said, coming as close to bragging as his faith allowed. “They are aggressive grazers and breed back quick. They are easy calvers and they put money in your pocket rather than show animals that take money out of it.”
"Why do you reckon they keep on weight when others can't?" Walt had asked.
"I am not really sure. Maybe they have some genetic resistance to parasites. One thing I noticed is that they are fastidious eaters. They won't eat anywhere near a cow-flop and they won't eat where the ground is wet" the Amish man admitted.
Then the zinger “You would do well to marry a girl like any of these heifers.”
The advice of the Amish farmer popped into Walt’s head, unbidden, but there it was.
Dona carried a few extra pounds and she carried it very, very well. Many girls in post-Ebola America had hip-bones so sharp they could cut you. Dona who would have been considered “slender” in pre-Ebola America carried a comfortable amount of padding compared to the new normal. Nothing gross. Comfortable.
Watching her eat lunch, he noticed that she inspected the food as she ladled it onto her plate and took a discrete sniff of the meat in the stew before starting to eat.
Dona looked up and noticed Walt watching her. She gave him a smile and batted her big. brown, doe-like eyes and then started eating.