Judd glanced up from the ground he was plowing and saw movement on the river. He let go of the horse’s traces and trudged down to the riverbank.
He glared as an empty rowboat glided smoothly down the middle of the river. For a moment, he thought about letting it go on by, but he grudgingly doffed his boots and swam out to catch the boat and guide it onto dry land.
The oars lay in the bottom of the boat, and a large rock trapped a piece of paper on the middle seat. Judd took the paper and looked at it; there was more than one message written there, each in a different hand. The one writ large was the important one: “Judd: Have gone to be whore in big city. Easier work, better pay than being your wife.” Then there were some Japanese symbols that Judd figured were either Mitsu’s name or a curse.
He growled in his throat. Mitsu was probably just goading him, but he couldn’t know. He kept reading and realized that others had briefly stopped the boat on its journey home.
“She told you!” read one addendum.
“Forget her. There’s more where she come from.”
“Good for her! You must be a horrible man!”
“Thas wat you git for marryin a HEATHEN foriner.”
“A firebrand! I gotta find that cathouse!”
He read everything several more times to better fix the misery in his mind. Then he mangled and ripped the page and tossed it onto the breeze.
So by now, the story was being told upriver that someone named Judd, who lived downriver, had lost his mail-order bride and – at least temporarily – his rowboat. If he ever went that way again, he would have to use a different name.
Judd dripped back toward his horse and plow; there was work needing to be done and he had lost enough daylight fetching his boat.
What really hurt was not that Mitsu had left him; she was lazy, cold in bed, no more fertile than his previous wives, and she couldn’t cook decent food. No, what made Judd mutter under his breath was the sure knowledge that she would never give him credit for the good he had done her. That he had taken in that fragile porcelain doll of a woman and built her up into something almost useful. He had made her strong.
“Dagnabit!” he told his horse. “Before she come here and did a little bit of work, she never coulda rowed against the current.”