Eventually all five of the mining camp were sitting near the fireplace pushing fried potatoes around on their plates. Earl dumped the remainder of his breakfast on the ground in front of Sniffly.
“I told Walt he was wasting his money on ya. Ya might be easy on the eyes but ya certainly aren’t easy on the stomach.”
Arny guffawed and nudged Bart in the ribs.
“Maybe Walt had something else in mind for raising morale?”
Franklin’s hand darted to his pommel, his voice a whisper but clear.
“Not while I have breath.”
Martha’s heart returned from being lodged in her throat, They were the first words Martha had heard him utter since they had arrived. Arny and Bart were stunned into silence. Earl seemed to look at the body guard with new respect.
“Nor while I’m in charge. He’s got a point boys, she may be indentured but she’s no drudge. She’s still got her rights. I won’t hear of anyone laying a hand on her in that way.”
Franklin relaxed his hand and his eyes returned to the ground. Martha was still furious at him for not warning her about what was coming and for finding it humorous until he found himself in the same boat. Still, if this really was remorse, maybe he had finally hit rock bottom and would wake up. Maybe he could still change into the kind of friend she would need to survive in this new torment. Earl’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Right so plans for the day. Walt is bringing more livestock so Franklin and I will head out and hunt whatever it was that killed Betsy, meybe we can find yer lost key while we’re at it. And Honey, if ya ‘spect to keep yer cushy post up here cooking, instead of joining Arny and Bart mining in the tunnels, I strongly suggest making something better to eat for dinner than this festering swill. I’m heading out to take a piss. Franklin pack up enough supplies to last all day before ya come.”
Arny and Bart chuckled as they shrugged into their gear, grabbed lanterns and headed down the tunnels at the back of the cave. Now alone, Martha blocked the door as Franklin tried to leave.
“We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Yes, there is.”
Franklin’s eyes darted around while he fingered his necklace.
“Fine … look I don’t know why you haven’t told anyone about how the weirs in the pass really died …”
He finally made eye contact and Martha saw the fear there for the first time.
“… but know this. If you do ever tell, I will deny it. No one will believe you and you will lose my protection.”
With that he shouldered past her, grabbed the keys from their peg, and hurried outside. Stunned, Martha returned to her stool and sat down to process. He wasn’t avoiding her because he was remorseful, he was avoiding her because he was afraid of her. So much for friendship, the best she was going to get from Franklin was a mutual blackmail. He would protect her from drunks as long as she protected him from the truth coming out.