Emily could feel the air move just above her spine where the animal leapt over her. She rested on top of the child for a second, then came to her feet with her knees shaking. The animal continued to run. Emily looked at the little girl who was shaking hard. "Are you alright?" she asked, forgetting that the child couldn't understand her.
People gathered around, talking rapidly. Emily looked for anyone she knew who could speak English. Then a woman came and held her arms out to the little girl, who nestled inside them. The child's mother talked to her in Omaha. Emily tried to understand so hard that her neck hurt from straining forward, trying to catch each word. And still she didn't understand. Finally Chief Tatongamonthe came to her.
"Gladonshdaway thanks you for saving Heewhodaame's life. She says you were very brave--you were. I saw you. What you have done, I honor," he said.
"I just happened to be closest to her," said Emily.
"Yes, you are thinking as we do. That all children are important. That all of us should care for them."
The concept made her shiver deliciously. If only all of Concord had been like that. He talked just like Mr. Alcott. An Indian Transcendentalist-- imagine. Then Emily looked around. The ground had stopped shaking, along with her knees. So, where was Sariah? Was she alright?
When the last buffalo had run past, Sariah and her three companions had leapt into the air and rejoiced. Then regaining their dignity, they plastered humble looks upon their faces, which kept cracking into smiles at their success.
Once in the camp, people crowded round, touching them, and thanking them for their brave action. When she saw Emily, Sariah could see tears spring into her eyes. Then to Sariah's everlasting embarrassment, Emily launched herself into Sariah's arms and hugged her. Sariah hugged back and reluctantly pried her off. "Oh Sariah, I was so afraid for you," she said.
"Oh, I'm fine. Was anybody hurt?"
"No, thanks to Emily," said the chief.
"What do you mean, 'thanks to Emily'?" asked Sariah.
With that, Tatongamonthe recounted her actions in saving the little girl. Sariah looked at her with new respect. She had a stout heart. Sariah slipped her arms around her and gave her a hug. She felt warm and happy inside and she could feel her heart swell. Sariah figured it was contact with Emily's spiritual nature. Then Sariah quickly let go. It wasn't seemly to hang on like that. The sun had slowly risen since the stampede. Sariah really wanted to talk to Emily alone because she had a question burning to get outside her mouth.
As people wandered back to their routines and putting the little damage the buffalo had made to rights, Sariah led Emily to a shady tree. Emily rested by sitting on one of its lower branches.
"Emily, who is Johnny?," asked Sariah.
Emily gave her a started look. "How did you know about Johnny?" she asked.
"When the lightening struck, you called out his name."
"Johnny was my older brother. He died a few years ago in a lightening storm."
"I'm sorry. It seems you lost your whole family. Do you want to talk about it?" said Sariah.
Emily let out a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of her soul. She looked at the ground. "He was so dutiful that Father used to worry about him. He would take on extra work around the farm, then help Mother out. He was almost too good to live long, if you know what I mean.
"I think Father had a premonition that something was going to happen. The day was clear and hot. Johnny was plowing a new field that he and Father had just removed some stumps from. As he plowed, Father was slopping the pigs. The sky clouded up. I was feeding the hens and Mother was inside, cleaning. I remember Father putting the pail down and then hearing thunder. A storm was rolling in. Father took the pail back, and came outside again. The storm was much closer.
"I could see Johnny up on a ridge. The thunder was loud enough that he couldn't hear us. Father ran up to get him. I could see him trying to unhitch the horse, who was skittish, and he was having a hard time. Father was almost there when a big bang startled the horse and she pushed Johnny into the plow. Lightening came flying out of the sky, and hit him."
By now Emily was crying. Her face was contorted with the pain of this memory. Sariah took her into her arms and comforted her. After a few minutes, Sariah's shoulder was wet from Emily's tears. Her sobbing subsided, and she pulled away, leaving Sariah feeling empty inside. "That must have been terrible. Are you the only one left from your family?" asked Sariah.
"I didn't have an Uncle to take me in as you did when you lost your parents," said Emily.
Sariah's heart lurched. If only that were true. She did not want to discuss this with anyone. She felt herself stiffen, and the old rage flare up again. She carefully tamped it down, then looked at Emily. Her eyes were so honest. They demanded honesty in return. This was a delicate balancing act. The truth, but not too much truth. Sariah sighed. "My folks aren't dead," she said.
Emily blinked at her. "Then why were you raised by your Uncle?" she asked.
"My folks weren't the most worthy people around," she said.
"Oh. I understand. Did they see you, growing up?" said Emily.
"Not if I saw them first," said Sariah. 'Time for a diversionary tactic,' she thought. "Emily, you should have seen Uncle Orrin trying to figure our how to dress me. I mean, I arrived with just the clothes on my back. And he wasn't rich, so he traded something for an armload of clothes that had belonged to the boy down the road before he outgrew them. So I went from a dress to britches and shirts in a single day and until we got here, I never went back unless it was a Sunday, and Uncle Orrin could talk me into going to church."
"And just what does it take to talk you into going to church?" asked Emily, waggling her brows at Sariah.
"Out here is my church. I detest the confinement of the buildings. No, the truth is, I detest living inside. I want to live under the sky on God's great earth. Not for me to sit in a parlor and mend my husband's socks." A funny look crossed Emily's face, and Sariah wanted to call back her last sentence. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean...
But just then the Chief Tatongamonthe arrived. At his side was Ooiltownah. They motioned for Emily to join them. Sariah looked on as they talked. Emily's face was so mobile. First she smiled warmly, then looked surprised, then incredulous, and finally grateful. They talked for a long time.
Sariah was relaxed, knowing that these were good people who would not hurt Emily, but she was curious. She had to admit to herself that she knew little of Plains' Tribes' customs. She hoped she had done everything right, but Emily was reacting in a very positive way.
So, Sariah put away her fears. She leaned against the tree, looking at the camp, the trees and Looking Glass River--if you could call it a river since it was about the size of a creek. The prairie was disturbed by the recent stampede and the wind blew a bit of dust up, but it was a beautiful place. Sariah hated to see this way of life end for her friends, but suspected that Indian Territory would soon have some new inhabitants. The best she could do by herself was to deal honorably with them, respect their ways, and stand up for them if need be. She was half-tempted to stay, but she had promised Emily to take her to the Valley. She had given her word, and she was only as good as her word.
Emily, Chief Tatongamonthe and Ooiltownah came back. Sariah waited for the chief to speak. "I have decided to give Emily a name and make her a part of my family to honor her for saving Heewhodaame," he said. Sariah was confused. Did this mean Emily was going to stay? She half hoped...
"Sariah, we talked about it. This is a great honor, and I will always be welcome here, but I am going on to the Valley with you. It just wouldn't be fair to do otherwise," said Emily. But I have longed for a family again, and this is such a lovely gift, that I must accept it. Do you mind terribly?"
"Why would I mind? It is a very great honor and you deserve it. We have to wait for permission to cross Omaha land anyway, so why not?" said Sariah.
The naming ceremony was to be that night. Emily and Sariah consulted about what they had that might be a fitting gift. "I have tobacco and some Golden Seal. That's one of my favorite healing herbs," said Sariah.
"I have nothing. I thought I could tell a story, but Ooiltownah said you don't tell stories in the summer. So many rules. It's like visiting a rich person's house and not knowing which fork to use," said Emily.
"People use more than one fork? Why?" asked Sariah.
"Oh, they have these rules about using a short fork with some foods and a fork with longer tines for others. I was always hopelessly confused. I hate to offend people who are being so nice. Hey, do you think they would be offended if I gave them my Book of Mormon?"
"If you don't try to convert them, I can't see why not. But then how will you finish reading it?" asked Sariah
"Are you willing to share yours?" asked Emily. Sariah hesitated, then nodded.
"Just be careful with it. I don't want anything to happen to it."
"Okay. But I thought you didn't care all that much." said Emily.
Sariah took the book out of her saddlebags and opened it to the flyleaf. A signature sprawled across the page. Emily's jaw dropped. "Joseph Smith, Jr.?"
"Now you can see why this is precious to me." Emily opened her bag and took out, "Self-Reliance" She opened it and Sariah saw the signature, "Ralph Waldo Emerson." she read. "You know him?"
"Yes, he lived next door. And I know you knew the Prophet. So I promise to take very good care of this book whenever I borrow it to read."
"Good. Now, if you just follow instructions, and don't ask a lot of questions, you should do fine. But it's okay to be a little nervous," said Sariah.
"Well, okay, I won't ask them a lot of questions, but I will ask you afterwards."
"A fat lot I know about Omaha customs, but ask away if it will make you happy," said Sariah.
"Hey, I'll just be happy if they give me a name I can pronounce."
It was the day after the naming ceremony. Emily was now to be called Mazataywi, and since neither she nor Sariah knew the meaning, Emily was just happy to be able to pronounce it. The two women had joined the brothers, Cindagaabeshee and Cindeehaha, at archery. These were two of the men Sariah had helped turn the stampede, and they also had ridden Buddy with her, so she considered them friends. Both brothers were very handsome and flirtatious, which was fun.
They were rolling willow hoops along the ground and shooting at them. Emily had surprised everyone with her ability to shoot. What she failed to mention is that she had learned in Concord, where archery was considered a sound accomplishment for young females.
For some reason Sariah was having trouble. Her arrows were, as often as not, too high for the rolling hoops. She excused herself and went off in the direction of their pack. Cindeehaha gave Emily a half-comic smoldering look, then chuckled to himself. Emily gave him a greatly exaggerated fluttering of her lashes. Both knew this meant nothing, especially when Taesonway walked by, and his head turned so fast he missed his target entirely and lost his arrow in a bush. All three dissolved in a fit of laughter. This needed no translation.
So Cindeehaha went looking for his arrow and Sariah came back with a most unusual bow in her hand. She waited for Cindeehaha to come back to the shooting line, then proceeded to brace the bow against her foot and string it. This took some effort, for the bow was almost as long as Sariah was tall. Now she brought it upright and it came to her ear, it was so long. It had a single, graceful curve that Emily thought beautiful. Sariah took an arrow. Cindagaabeshee rolled a target hoop and Sariah tracked it. She pulled the huge bow back in one fluid motion and let it go. The arrow sprang forward, and hit the hoop dead center. Cindagaabeshee rolled another hoop with the same result, and then a third.
Now the brothers motioned a request to handle the bow. Sariah smiled, and handed it to Cindagaabeshee. He ran his hand along the curve appreciatively. He sighted along it, then signaled Cindeehaha to roll a target hoop. He nocked the arrow, tracked the target and pulled back, but there was a trick to that bow, and his arm seized up before he was able to reach the full length of his arrow. He carefully relaxed the bow, and indicated that Sariah should show him the trick. She smiled as she showed that both hands should pull apart at the same time, rather than drawing back just the string. Cindagaabeshee tried again and to his delight, hit the target.
He jumped in the air and turned a bit before landing on his feet. Then he gave to bow to Cindeehaha to try. Knowing the trick made all the difference. He too hit the target the first time. Now with huge grins, the three handed the bow to a very doubtful Emily. She hefted the bow, which was deceptively light. The thickness of the bowstring gave her real pause. She nocked an arrow. Cindeehaha rolled a hoop, and even knowing the trick, Emily's arm nearly fell off trying to draw the arrow back as she moved the bow forward. Her arms jerked back together and she handed the bow back to Sariah with a little frown.
"That's okay. It takes either a really strong arm or lots of practice. My grandfather made this for me when I turned sixteen, so I've had some time to practice with it." said Sariah. The sound of her voice sounded odd since they had been signing all morning. The four friends thus spend a pleasant day playing with no vexing duties to do. They ate a simple meal of jerky and berries, washing it down with cool spring water, then proceeded to contest each other in footraces and other games until the sunset. At their evening meal, a sense of sadness filled Emily's heart, for she knew they would be leaving soon to continue their journey. That meant leaving good friends and now family behind.
The dark was almost like velvet. Camp sounds, and the sounds of night animals blended. Fireflies winked in the distance. Emily sat back, listening to the haunting sound of Cindeehaha's wooden flute, as he played for Taesonway. She knew this was a way of courting. The night was so perfect--she looked over at Sariah, who was reading from her Book of Mormon. Her long, black hair hung about her shoulders, like all the other Indian women in camp.
The angles of her face were softened by firelight as she read. Those brown eyes were truly the most beautiful Emily had ever seen. She felt her heart warm toward her friend, who taught her, played with her, and had even saved her life. Emily gave a little sigh, knowing she loved this special friend. She had heard of Romantic Friendships, and supposed this was the case on her part, although she was sure Sariah would have none if it if she so much as suspected.
Sariah pretended to read. She could hear the heartbreaking music from Cindeehaha's flute. She wished she had a flute, for there was someone she wished to play for. She cast the thought out of her mind. She looked at the red-gold hair as Emily bent over her journal, writing. She thanked the Creator for her friend and for the goodness of the Omaha people. Maybe she could come back to join them after she dropped Emily off. Then she remembered her Grandfather's words.
"Your father has shamed his family and his people. He is no longer one of us. But, you are. You are the child of my heart. I trust you to redeem his shame and make our name good again."
"But Grandfather, how can I redeem our whole family. I am only one person," she had asked.
"By your deeds," he said. And those deeds did not include a silly, schoolgirl attraction for Emily.
That night, as they slept, Sariah noticed that they both maneuvered to sleep closer together. Maybe a little silly, schoolgirl attraction would be alright. What she didn't notice was the wise smile Nuungaththez exchanged with Ooiltownah.
The next morning, very early, they were called to see Chief Tatongamonthe. He gave them permission to cross Omaha lands, then bid them, " Adieu", almost tearfully. His voice was choked with emotion as he talked with Emily for the last time. As they repacked their things, Ooiltownah gave the red dress to Sariah, who thanked her with a hug. Cindagaabeshee and Cindeehaha presented Emily with an Omaha bow and some arrows. She had tears in her eyes at leaving such good friends. Then with Buddy in tow, the two women continued their journey West.
Refreshed from their rest, Emily and Sariah made good time. Sariah was back in her breeches, shirt and boots, with her hat back on her head. Emily had changed back into her usual traveling clothes.
"Nice bow," said Sariah.
"Yes, and much easier to use than yours. That was so kind of them."
"Well, they know we have to pass through a lot of buffalo herds on our way West. Silently is a safer way to hunt for food."
"You're right. I never want to experience another stampede again." Emily shivered, even though it was a hot day. "Look, there's dust rising up there. I hope it's not buffalo," said Emily.
"Looks like the trail. It must be a wagon train. We could tag right along," said Sariah.
"Oh. I suppose it would be safer, huh," said Emily.
"Look, we don't have to actually join them. If we walk behind them, and camp together at night, would you like that better?"
Emily's smile spoke for her. As they neared the trail, they could see four wagons, three of them big Conestogas, and one a Teamster's wagon like many people used for hauling. The wagon was loaded with barrels of flour and others foods, furniture, bedding, clothes, tools and a plow. Emily couldn't see into the Conestogas, because she was too short. Families walked at the side or just behind, because every square inch was used for storage. The Conestogas were pulled by oxen and the wagon by six plow horses. The drivers ranged from an intelligent looking man with white hair, to a rather disheveled looking man whose face was red as if he was in the act of losing his temper. Emily prayed that he was not the wagonmaster.
Her prayer was answered as a well-built man with grey eyes and sandy hair approached them. "Hello. I'm Ned Swanner. I'm the Wagonmaster here. Who are you?" he asked.
"Hullo, my name's Sariah and this is Emily. We're on our way West."
His eyes took in her weapons, clothing and manner, and then he looked at Emily. He shrugged. "You look harmless enough," he said to Emily. "And if she's with you, I can see how you two got so far by yourselves. Do you have anything to help pay the way?"
Emily was shocked. She hadn't figured on any expenses in this arrangement. She watched as Sariah matter-of-factly opened her saddlebag and took out a small burlap bag of coffee. The Wagonmaster's eyes lit up. "Ladies, for this I'll take you all the way to the Willamette Valley myself." He sniffed the bag and looked transported in heavenly rapture.
"Thanks, but we're not going to Oregon," said Sariah.
"Mormons! I'm not going West with Mormons," said the red-faced man, turning in the seat of his wagon. "We don't know they are Mormons, Malcolm," said the Wagonmaster.
"But we are," said Sariah. "What else do you want to know?"
"You're a Breed, aren't you?" he asked.
"Yep. Want us to leave?"
"Nope. I like to drive Malcolm crazy. All he does is complain, so I figure he should have something to complain about. And no one else likes him, so you'll be our entertainment."
The whole thing was said so softly, there was no way Malcolm could have heard over the rumble of his own wagon over the trail. Then he returned to the head of the line.
"What's a Breed?" asked Emily.
"Someone part Indian, like me," said Sariah.
"Oh great. Something tells me this is going to take up a few pages in my journal."
"I can ignore him. Let's just make up or minds to have a good time, and forget about him," said Sariah.
So as they walked, the two women amused themselves by making up family histories for everyone they saw on the trail. They decided that the intelligent looking man was a descendant of the Greek poet, Homer, that the stalwart Wagonmaster's ancestor had been trapped on a ship forever until love had freed him, and that the blustering Malcolm was the many times great-grandchild of a rampaging warlord of ancient times. Some of the women fitted their romantic idea of Amazons, while they decided others were the offspring of princesses.
After creating a genealogy for everyone, they went on to finding pictures in the clouds. Then, as that ended with the clearing of the sky, they started singing. Emily had a clear, strong alto. But Sariah's voice had the quality that was rare even in the best communities. Her singing caught everyone's ear. And when she sang, "I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair", the entire company fell silent, transfixed by the beauty. Even Malcolm had no complaints for about an hour.
At last, the sky began to fill with pink and pastel blue clouds. The Wagonmaster called the train to a halt. People began to choose camping places. Sariah and Emily relieved Buddy of their pack and set up their camp. Then they got their bows and arrows to do a bit of hunting for supper.
"I heard Prairie Chickens over that way," said Sariah, pointing into the grass.
Then Malcolm was stomping toward them. "What the hell are you two carrot-eaters doing with them Injun bows? Why can't you use a gun, like proper White Folks?"
"Only a fool would risk shooting off a rifle and starting a stampede. This is buffalo country," said Sariah.
"Oh yeah?" he hollered, puffing himself up like a grouse. "I used my rifle and nothing happened. You're just saying that because you want to use those Injun things. Savages. That's all they are. And I say you are Injun lovers."
"You used your rifle? When?" asked Sariah.
"Just last week. Sure, they ran, but they just went thataway, and nobody was hurt."
When Emily saw him point back toward the Omaha Camp, something snapped inside her. "You idiot. May you rot. May you become a leper. May onions grow out of your naval and your head from a beet patch. I came within an inch of being trampled by a buffalo cow because of you!" With each step the New Englander took toward him, Malcolm backed up a step.
"Where were you?" he asked Sariah.
"Turning the herd with my friends," she said.
"I told you not to shoot that thing off. especially at the crack of dawn," said the Wagonmaster.
"I didn't want my boys to starve, now, did I?"
Sariah cocked her head. A shadow was going over the setting sun. "You don't have to worry tonight. Grab a stick--Passenger Pigeons are coming," said Sariah.
"I don't believe you," said Malcolm.
"Fine, suit yourself."
Sariah and Emily put their bows and arrows away and took the sticks they sometimes used as tent poles into their hands. They stood, ready as soldiers-- waiting. The beat of hundreds of wings filled the sky. The air was roiling, as the massive cloud of birds neared. "Remember, everybody, take only what you can eat," said Sariah.
Emily took three swings at the birds, and brought down four. Her face reddened. "Oops. I got two with one blow. I can eat it for breakfast, okay?" Sariah grinned at her as she knocked two birds neatly to the ground.
By now the obnoxious Malcolm had armed himself with a hoe and each of his young sons held a rake. They swung them in vicious arcs, and soon a layer of the birds covered the ground at their feet. Following their example, the others just kept hitting the cloud of birds. Emily wanted to scream at them to stop. She knew that her Omaha family depended on these birds for food. Then inspiration hit in the form of an old folksong.
She started to whistle-- a practice both parents had discouraged as being very unladylike. The song she was whistling was, "When a Child, I lived in Boston". When she got to the chorus, she could see guilt in the faces of the other travelers.
"Waste not, want not is the maxim I would preach.
Let your watchword be dispatch,
And practice what you preach.
Do not let your chances,
Like sunbeams pass you by,
For you'll never miss the water
Till the well runs dry."
Emily smiled to herself. She never sang or spoke the words, but they were in the minds of everyone listening. Except Malcolm and his sons, who, naturally were not listening. Finally Sariah had had enough. She took him by the scruff of the neck and shook him. "Stop. You'll never be able to eat all those."
Malcolm stopped long enough to give her a baleful look, then glanced at the pile of over fifty birds lying at his feet.
"So what. God ain't going to stop making them. I'll pick out the best ones, and the coyotes can have the rest."
"Oh great, so we'll have to listen to coyotes fight over them all night long," said Emily.
"Not that it's any of your business, but I'm trying to teach my sons to hunt, to be men," he said.
"And this is what you think being a man is about?" asked the Wagonmaster.
"That and getting a woman who will obey them," said Malcolm.
At that comment, everyone in the camp walked away from him, giving up on changing his ignorant manner. Malcolm grinned down at his oldest son. "See, they know your old man is right. They didn't even answer back."
"You're so smart, Pop," he said.
Emily was right. Animals fought over the left over birds all night long. When morning came, everyone was groggy and cranky from lack of sleep. The Wagonmaster cautioned them to tie everything down securely, for today they would ford the Platte River. Emily swallowed the lump in her throat. Memories of the Mississippi started to play themselves in her head. As they drew nearer and nearer to the river's edge, Emily was finding it harder and harder to breathe.
She felt Sariah take her by the hand. The warmth of Sariah's spirit filled her heart. She glanced at Sariah, who gave her a reassuring smile. She could feel the dust of the trail under her feet, working it's way into her shoes. The shoes were getting mighty worn, and Emily was worried. What if they wore out before they got to the Valley? The wagon wheels raised clouds of dust, which covered her skin and made it itch. Part of her was looking forward to the water, part of her was seeing her father go down in the raging Mississippi -- never to reappear. At the edge of the water, Emily froze. The river ford stretched as far as she could see. Sariah still held her hand, but now she ran her thumb along Emily's fingers.
"Emily, this is really shallow. When I crossed last year, the water only came up to my hips. I'll walk right beside you, and Buddy will be on the other side of you," said Sariah.
"But your hips are where my waist is. Are you sure I'll be okay?"
"Some of the rocks are a little slippery, but you can grab me if you begin to fall. There isn't much current. Look, this is a sluggish river."
And Emily could see that the river was not a swift or wild river at all. The Wagonmaster lined them up, with Emily and Sariah near the front because he could tell that Emily was frightened. Emily took her first step into the river and was surprised that it was almost warm. She could feel gravel under her feet and the water in her shoes and socks. She made steady progress until she could feel the rocks that now covered the bottom. Moss made them slick. She worked to maintain her balance, ever conscious of Buddy and Sariah on either side of her.
The horse was amazingly sure footed, as was Sariah. Emily walked with a bit more confidence. Each slip, however, made her stomach fall. This was such a long walk. The further she went into the river, the wetter her dress got. She was up to her waist now.
She could hear the Wagonmaster telling the wagons what to do. "There are sandbars in this river, and some are big enough to catch you up so you can't move. I've traveled this river for years, and I know where they are. So follow me exactly. Do not go off on your own," he said.
Emily could hear the various wagons line up, and the voices of their owners urging their teams on. The big Conestogas moved behind the Wagonmaster, following him exactly for the entire one-mile ford. They had no trouble at all. Then she heard Malcolm telling his son, "He thinks he's so smart. I'll show you that your old man can do things himself and no harm will come of it."
Emily knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Malcolm would find that sandbar and that he would become stuck. She also knew he would blame someone else. They were within sight of the other shore when the inevitable happened. A great noise issued from Malcolm as his wagon struck the sandbar. She felt Sariah stiffen, then saw her look back with the grimmest of looks. The darkness covered her countenance again. Then she looked at Emily. Her eyes softened, as the light filled her face again. "I'll get you to the other side, then I'll go back and help that low-down skunk," she said.
Now Emily could hear the poor abused horses whinnying their protests as Malcolm whipped the air above their backs. Curses rolled forth from his mouth, and she heard the groans from the others in the wagon train. She was almost to the shore now, and gravel was once again beneath her feet. Her dress was wet to her waist. Her shoes felt like sponges. She moved aside to let the others pass, and wrung out her skirt, then took Buddy by the reins as Sariah went back to help Malcolm. With every sound from the other horses, Buddy moved nervously. Emily took all her courage and patted her flank. Instantly she calmed down. Maybe she wasn't so bad after all.
Now Sariah and the men were surrounding the rear of Malcolm's wagon. He had his son drive while he joined then in pushing the draft wagon free. Finally, it came unstuck. Without a thank you to anyone, he jumped back on the seat of his wagon and drove it clear across the ford. Then Emily heard him tell his son, "You'd think an experienced Wagonmaster would know a better ford--one without sandbars."
When Sariah rejoined her, they grinned at each other before starting to walk again. Their wet clothing felt cool against their legs, but the trail dust soon turned to a fine layer of mud on their clothes. They needed a place to bathe. They needed to get away from Malcolm. They wanted to be alone. All this was concluded without words.
"I've had enough. Have you?" asked Sariah.
"Yes," was all Emily said.
So Sariah went to talk to the Wagonmaster. She returned shortly with half a bag of coffee beans and a chunk of salt pork. "He's sorry he drank so much coffee. He's also sorry about Malcolm. I told him it wasn't his fault. There is a Malcolm in every group," said Sariah.
They watched the wagon train pull away, made their camp, bathed, washed their clothes, and put on their others. Emily and Sariah could both see how damaged Emily's shoes now were. The leather had curled away from the seams and the sole. They would maybe last another mile. Emily started to weep.
"I've tried so hard. I've put my fears behind me, and walked until every muscle in my body hurt, and still, the Lord hasn't seen fit to bless me so I can get to the valley," she said. Without a word, Sariah rummaged through the pack until she found the boots Bishop Martin had given her. She handed them to Emily. Emily tried them on and they almost fit. Sariah showed her how to add extra socks to make them fit better. And when at last they were snug, Emily launched herself into Sariah's arms and hugged her. Sariah's face went red. She indulged herself with a stroke of Emily's red hair. She was surprised at how soft it was. Then they faced each other again. Sariah felt like singing, her heart has so light.
They decided to camp by the Platte River for the day and from the look of the sky, with the huge thunder heads rolling in, Sariah thought it was wise to set up their lean-to. This was a canvas tent, only open on one side so they could stay cool while it was still hot outside. They took canvas buckets out of the pack and set them out to catch the rain. While Sariah groomed Buddy to a glossy sheen, Emily gathered firewood and put it under a square of canvas Sariah had brought in case of rain. The cartridges and guns, bows and arrows were also kept clean and dry, along with their bedding and food. This left only a narrow space for them to sleep.
Finally, the rain started. Buddy was hobbled nearby, with plenty of grass to eat and the nearby river to drink from. Sariah and Emily ate a meal of hardtack, jerky and a bit of pemmican the Omahas had given them. Then, as the rain started to fall in earnest, Sariah closed the open flap on the lean-to. It was cozy inside. They relaxed on the soft bedding.
"Sariah. How did you wind up with Bishop Martin's boots?" asked Emily.
"I saw the state of your shoes, figured they might not last, and asked him if he knew where I could get some for you. So he took his off and handed them right to me. He's a good man."
"And you're a good woman."
Sariah looked down at the ground, her face flushing around her cheeks. "Not all that good."
"I've seen enough to convince me."
"Then you don't know what's in my heart at times. I think sometimes my heart is so full of anger that I might explode," said Sariah.
"Remember that man with the Greys?"
"The crazy one?" asked Emily.
"What would you say if I told you I was related to him?"
Emily closed her eyes against the pain she could feel for Sariah. Insanity in her family. This was so unkind. Poor Sariah could never bring a child into the world under those circumstances. It was just too risky.
"Sariah, I'm so sorry. What are you going to do--I mean, with your life? You could still marry, if it was someone who couldn't have children, but..."
"Those kind of men are mighty hard to find. I know." There was a long pause as Sariah gathered her courage. Her breathing changed, and her hands shook.
"What I have not told you is how I'm related to that man. I told you I don't have very worthy parents. That man is my father."
The shock ran through Emily like nothing she had ever experienced before-- even the buffalo cow running over her and jumping at the last second. She looked into Sariah's eyes. Then she remembered his rant; "I took you a virgin." That vile man had taken his own daughter's virtue.
"Oh Sariah. I don't know what to say. I ...if I had only known, I would never have gone on and on about you marrying. What will you do? Is there a place for you in the Valley?"
"No. I have thought about this for a long time. I want to help people. If I have to be a ministering angel in the next life, I may as well have an early start. I will go back on the trail and help those coming West--not just Mormons, everyone."
"Even the Malcolms?" asked Emily.
"Even the Malcolms, but only if they listen to me."
A distant rumble of thunder caught Emily's attention. She looked in the direction of the sound, and grew pale. As the sounds drew closer, Emily began to shake. Now the crack of the lightening was much closer and Sariah knew that Emily was reliving her brother's death. Poor Emily, who had had lost so much. Sariah took Emily in her arms to comfort her. She could feel the sweetness of Emily's spirit and it warmed her heart. The lightening was so close now that even Sariah was a little worried. The crack made her peek out at Buddy, to see that she was alright.
The mare was nervous, and she gave Sariah a look that just asked for comfort. Then Buddy walked over to her. She put a hand out and rubbed her nuzzle. The mare blew softly against her hand, then walked away. Sariah closed the flap again, and turned her attention to Emily. She was curled into Sariah's side, with her ear resting against Sariah's chest. This was such a lovely feeling that Sariah didn't want it to go away. She could hear their two heartbeats and their breaths. Then, after a bit, she could only hear a single heartbeat. She could see Emily breathing, so then she knew that their heartbeats were matched now.
She stroked Emily's hair--reveling in its softness. Then Emily turned her face up towards Sariah. She came closer and closer. Sariah knew what was about to happen, and her heart was ready to burst from happiness. She could feel Emily's warm breath on her lips and her body pressed against her. Then Emily touched her lips to Sariah's. The kiss was over almost as soon as it started, but the whole world had changed for Sariah. "I love you, my friend," said Emily.
This was Sariah's first Romantic Friendship. She had heard of them, and had even seen two girls who had one. She wanted to cry out to the world, "I have a friend who loves me." It was also probably her only chance at anything approaching love.
"I love you too," said Sariah.
The freedom of it all began to hit her. Sariah had someone she could court now. Someone to speak the most intimate things in her soul to, and to touch--oh how she had missed someone to touch. And when things were at the pinnacle of joy, here was someone she could kiss. She knew all the rules, they were in so many of the books being written. She also knew that no one really disapproved, as long as the kisses were few and chaste. So Sariah took a chance, and kissed Emily's forehead, then holding her in her arms, drifted between sleep and being jolted awake by the sounds of the storm outside.
In the morning, Sariah went outside to check on Buddy. She gave her a lingering dirty look for leaving her outside, but was none the worse for wear. Sariah brushed her down again, and checked her hooves. Buddy seemed to enjoy the attention.
The storm had passed. She and Emily then put their things in order for the journey ahead. Another cold meal was shared in silence, but little looks of love and touches made the simple meal a heaven on earth. They went on down the trail again, with their relationship forever changed.
One week later, a man rode into the Omaha village. He had blue eyes and black hair with a scraggly beard. The look in his eyes made people take a great interest in the ground, or the sky, or anywhere else. He went to Tatongamonthe, demanding information about two young women coming West together. His frustration grew as he realized that not one of the tribe could speak or understand English. He was tempted to speak to them in Creek, but curbed his tongue. Best not to get involved with that.
He rode away, grumbling to himself about his property, and getting a fugitive slave law for wives and children. The woman who had tried to cut Emily's hair asked about the man, and what he had wanted. When she discovered that he was looking for the White girl and her friend, she went into her tepee, and sent a strong picture of where they went to the man. She smiled as she felt him receive it, and turn his horse to follow them.
A week alone, walking West, ever toward the setting sun, Sariah and Emily filled the days with looking at the huge, open sky . . . the clouds becoming whatever their imaginations desired. At times they could see animals, Greek gods, and the cutest of imps. The land was open too. The long grass had grown shorter-- cropped by the buffalo herds and stunted by the lack of water. They could see for miles in every direction.
Sariah was pleased with her foresight in gathering rainwater and firewood. The river water seemed unhealthy. Far too many people and animals passed through it at the ford. The rainwater remained sweet and pure. Like Emily, she thought. As they walked, they often held hands. This simple act made the lonely Sariah feel connected not only to Emily, but to all of humanity.
Now they were seated on a trade blanket on the ground. It was night. Their tiny campfire gave off only a little light, but the moon was waxing again, and there was just enough light when combined with a lantern to read by. Emily was reading aloud from the Book of Mormon. Ordinarily Sariah would let her thoughts wander, but this particular story was exciting.
The three sons of a religious leader turned from evil to good, and volunteered to become missionaries to their people's most hated enemy. Sariah was absorbed in the story, and in the beauty of the young woman beside her. Gathering all her courage, Sariah slid her arm around Emily's waist. Emily turned and beamed at Sariah, then rested her head on Sariah's shoulder. Sariah felt as if someone had planted seeds in her heart. She could feel the emotions as they grew, budded, and blossomed. At bedtime, they each said their prayers, then got into their bedrolls, and slept.
The next morning, they arrived at Ash Hollow. The little trees and valley of green grass were the first they had seen for many days. This was the first source of good drinking water for many days, so people often stayed a bit to refresh themselves. There was a party of about a dozen people, using various types of carts, all pulled by plow horses but one.
It was a small cart, called a pony cart by some, but the owner had hitched a milk cow to the cart, and it pulled two little girls and a bunch of bedding along behind it. Sariah as doubtful as to how well this would work, but determined that the best way to get along with these new people would be to wait until she knew them a little before saying so.
Beside the cart walked a handsome man with clear, blue eyes, rich, brown hair and broad shoulders. As he walked, he divided his attention between the cow cart, and a farm wagon filled with furniture and an elderly woman in a sunhat and calico dress seated in the back. She looked so frail that a good wind might break her. A boy of about eight years drove the wagon. His hat was pulled down around his eyes, but not enough to hide his resemblance to the man who was probably his father.
Sariah and Emily had been holding hands. Sariah felt Emily's fingers slip away, and she realized that not everyone might approve of their friendship. Then she saw Emily run toward the man.
"Ethan? Is that you?", she asked.
The man turned to Emily and grinned, his strong, white teeth showing against the tan of his face.
"Emily? Little Emily? My, you have grown up," he said. They hugged enthusiastically, then stopped and regarded each other. Emily was smiling that special smile she usually reserved for Sariah. Sariah felt her heart sink. Who was this Ethan?
"Ethan, I had wondered how you were. You're on your way to the Valley. This is wonderful. Nathan, Jemma and Susan have grown like weeds. And how is your Grandmother?" Ethan's face grew serious, and he lowered his voice. "She isn't well at all. I'm afraid she won't arrive in the valley with us. And it is her dream. That's the only reason I brought her along. I think sometimes it is what keeps her going from day to day."
Sariah caught herself eavesdropping, and turned away. She busied herself watering Buddy, then taking her pack off and brushing her. The mare rubbed against her hand with her face and snorted. Sariah smiled. At least Buddy still liked her. Sariah looked over at Emily and this Ethan. She was still talking to him, her hands fluttering as she described something. The look in his eyes made her shiver. It was a look of love.
Sariah got Buddy settled, then set up camp. She didn't know when, or if Emily would be joining her. It was late afternoon. Sariah grabbed her big bow and a handful of arrows, and headed down to a stump that showed the marks of years of use. Now this cutting board, knife-throwing target, and chair would become her archery target. She knew her arrows would be ruined if she shot into the stump itself, but three thick suckers rose out of the side of the stump. They were perfect for her use.
Sariah stripped the leaves from the first sucker, paced her way back to a shooting line, drew a line in the soil with the heel of her boot, then checked the area for wandering children and animals. Pulling the big bow back made her muscles feel so good. Sariah smiled, then aimed and let go of her arrow. It flew true and hit the first leaf scar. The sucker quivered with the impact. She nocked another arrow, aimed and let fly. Again she hit the target perfectly. If only her mind and heart were as in tune as her body.
She heard a step next to her, turned, and looked into the face of a little, blonde girl. She was one of the two from the cow cart. She looked to be about six years old. Her dress was faded from the sun and many washings. Her hair fell in two braids, down her back, and her brown eyes were big with wonder. Sariah was in a grouchy mood, and did not want to deal with this child--especially the child of that man Emily was flirting with.
"Grrr!", said Sariah.
The child backed up, but didn't go away. Sariah decided to ignore her, and returned to shooting her bow. She hit the target another seven times. Then she stopped to retrieve her arrows. When she returned to the shooting line, the little girl was still there. "That's the biggest bow I've ever seen," said the girl.Sariah ignored her and shot another two arrows. "I like bows and arrows. You're real good at shooting. Like Robin Hood in the stories Emily used to tell us at Winter Quarters. I like Emily. She's nice."
"I like Emily too," said Sariah.
"I wish I could learn the bow and arrow."
Now her wistful voice sent Sariah back into the past. She was with her grandfather. He took the time to make her two special toys that had been her favorites all through her childhood. She took a deep breath, looked down at the little girl and remembered her gentle grandfather, Heneya Limhi Chatih. She touched the medallion he had given her at his death. "What's your name?" asked Sariah.
"Jemma. What's your name?"
"Sariah. What do you think about making you your own bow and arrows? They'll be just like the ones I first learned on, okay?"
"That will be wonderful," said Jemma as she skipped after Sariah as she put her own bow and arrows away.
They went off to a stand of willows. Sariah found a thick, springy branch and cut it to the right size with her Bowie knife. Handing it to Jemma, she cut a fistful of suckers to use as arrows. Then, remembering with a grin about her other favorite toy, she found a slab of willow and shaped a crude knife from it. The "blade" was too dull to cut butter, but it looked and felt good.
They went back to Sariah's camp where she located some thick string and strung the bow. Then she nocked the arrows. They walked back to the shooting range Sariah had made, and Sariah helped Jemma pace off the distance to her own shooting line. "Okay. Here are the rules. This is a weapon. You could put someone's eye out with these arrows. You need to be very careful. Never shoot this at a person. Never even aim it at a person. Am I clear?"
Jemma looked up into Sariah's best, "fierce adult in charge" look, gulped, and then nodded. So Sariah showed the child how to aim, draw the string back and fire. The first arrow went wild and landed two feet above the stump they were aiming for. But Jemma was determined. She persisted until she could hit the target. She then jumped for joy and hugged Sariah. Now Sariah froze. She had never had a child hug her like this in her whole life. It felt so different. Not like the hugs she gave Emily, but filling another emptiness inside her she didn't even know she had. When Emily held her, Sariah felt a warmth that nearly consumed her. Jemma's hug made her want to laugh. She wanted to play some more and to teach Jemma everything she knew.
She felt someone behind her. Sariah turned and looked up into Ethan's face. He looked displeased. Sariah stood and faced him.
"You are teaching my little girl to use weapons?", he asked.
"She wanted to know about my bow, so I showed her."
"It's hardly suitable for a young lady to know about weapons."
"This is a wilderness. I grew up on the frontier. Everyone should know how to get their own supper."
His eye flicked down her body, dismissing the trousers and shirt with a little frown. "I intend to protect my daughters and I can provide for them very well myself, thank you," he said.
"I'm sure you can. But what if something should happen to you? Don't you want them to be prepared?"
Her eyes bored into his. He was sweating now. His forehead was covered with beads of sweat.
"I know I won't live forever, but I intend to remarry as soon as humanly possible. With a good woman around, my chances at a long life are much greater."
Each word fell like a blow. He was flirting with Emily, he was a widower, and he intended to remarry right away. Sariah wanted to scream. She had just found love and it was being taken. She had thought she had until they reached Salt Lake to be with Emily, and now this man was going to take her away. Who else would ever want her? She was a misfit with a damaged past and now he was going to take ....
Sariah took a deep breath and tamped her anger down. She grew calm and collected, like a lake after a pebble dropped in has stopped ringing. Her eyes were like chert now.
"Don't make me give back my bow and arrows, Daddy. I really like them," said Jemma. He looked down at her, took her hand and walked her back to his campsite. Jemma held the bow and arrows tightly. The knife was hidden in her belt, wrapped in her sunbonnet. Sariah watched as he joined his other daughter, his son and Emily for their evening meal.
As it grew dark, Sariah watched the other campsite. Emily and Ethan talked for hours. Sariah cleaned and oiled her guns, then made rope from rawhide strips as she watched. Sariah put her things away, wondering if Emily was so taken with this man that she would risk scandal by staying the night at his campsite. Finally, she saw Emily stand. Ethan stood with her and then kissed her goodbye as she left to rejoin Sariah.
Sariah wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. The lump in her throat hurt. She climbed in her bedroll and pretended to be sleeping so that Emily couldn't talk to her. Sariah heard Emily come into their campsite. She stopped and then Sariah could hear a rustle as Emily dropped to her knees. She could feel Emily next to her, then the shock running through her body as Emily kissed her cheek. "Don't bother pretending. I know you're awake." Sariah turned to look at her. Emily's mouth was set in a line--neither a frown nor a smile.
"How did you know?"
"You don't usually sleep with your boots on."
Sariah felt her face color. She sat up and pulled her boots off. Concentrating on the little tugs necessary to remove them gave her an excuse not to look at Emily's face.
"Are you angry--about Ethan, I mean?"
"I'm working on something. I can't explain because it's delicate. I have to be careful not to ruin things."
"What about Richard Purdy. You are promised to him, or had you forgotten?"
Emily hung her head. She was pouting now. Her lower lip was prominent and her eyes downcast. Sariah didn't feel like playing along.
"Emily, you can't be so careless with people's feelings. Maybe Ethan seems like a better deal because you would be his only wife, but..."
Then Sariah felt Emily's hand stroking her face. Emily was leaning closer and closer. When their lips touched, it was all Sariah could do to keep from crying out. The kiss lasted twice as long as their first and left Sariah feeling shaken and confused.
"I only wanted him because maybe he would marry both of us, and we could be together forever," said Emily.
"What?" roared Sariah. "You can't be serious."
"Shh. Everyone in camp must have heard you. I thought it was a good plan. I sounded him out about women in the Bible who had their virtue taken and what he thought. He's okay with marrying someone like that."
"Emily. In the first place, you didn't ask me how I felt. I've met him, and he doesn't like me. He thinks I'm not ladylike. I don't think he'd want me around his children. In the second place, I'd die living in a city with a husband and kids--expected to be a good little wife and stay home. Can you see me wearing a dress, and cooking for the men folk, doing their laundry and all that? I would curl up and die if I had to give up my freedom. Now if I met a good man like Cindagaabeshee, I would be married happily. He understands me."
Emily's mouth worked as she tried to keep from crying. Sariah longed to take her in her arms and rock her. But that was unseemly. Her plan had been an innocent dream. And it was sweet, really, that she wanted them to be together forever. As Sariah waited, Emily reached up and touched her face with her fingertips. It was all Sariah could do to keep from reaching out to her, but Sariah wanted to make the point to Emily that she was angry.
"Sariah, I'm sorry. I didn't think."
"No, you felt. You're good at that. It's one of the things I love about you."
A smile broke out into Emily's face like the sun behind clouds. "You mean you still love me?"
"Yes. I'll love you forever."
"Even when I make you mad?" asked Emily.
"Yep, even when you make me mad." With that, the two friends embraced, then each rolled up in her bedroll and went to sleep.
The next morning, the group broke camp and set off down the trail. Emily and Sariah followed behind the little cow cart with Buddy in tow. At about noon, they came across the Sioux Indians. These horsemen made a spectacle that was something to behold, with their agile ponies, long, black hair with feathers fixed in it any number of ways, and flamboyant clothing. There was a group of about six young men riding by when one stared at Sariah. His horse reared up as he tried to stop suddenly. This caused the cow to bolt. Sariah ran after the cow, still wondering what had happened. She knew Emily could be trusted to look after Buddy. The cow was running toward a small ravine with the screaming girls in the cart behind it. Sariah ran faster. Her lungs hurt now. She could hear someone running behind her. She assumed it was Ethan.
There was a series of sickening sounds as the cart bounced down into the ravine. A wheel caught on a rock, and the cart turned on its side. The cow's moo's reverberated through the air. Sariah could hear the children crying. She put her shoulder to the side of the cart and pushed. Even though she was an exceptionally strong woman, the cart only raised up a few inches. Then she saw a man's hands grab the side of the cart. She turned, and saw the warrior who had startled the cow. He gave her a sheepish smile, then they pushed the cart upright. Sariah checked the little girls, who ran into her arms. Then Emily and Ethan arrived. He took his daughters, glared at the warrior, and stomped off.
Finally Sariah got a good look at him. She saw a medallion identical to hers around his neck. No wonder he had been startled. This man was not only part Creek; he was a very close relative. "I'm sorry about the mess I caused," he said as they walked down the ravine to check the cow.
"Well, if I had noticed your medallion, I would have been startled too. So your mother is Bird Clan?"
"Yes, she is called Martha Laird. Her mother is Mary Thompson," he said.
"Yeeeeha! Is her sister named Jane?"
"That's my Grandfather's sister. He was called Edward McKay." Sariah felt like dancing. She hugged this cousin, who hugged right back.
"What are you called?" he asked.
"I'm called Charles Brings. I never expected to find a member of my clan on this trail. What are you doing with these people?"
"These are Mormons. They are going West."
He looked at her, telegraphing his feelings about what she was doing. Sariah gulped. She knew what he was thinking. "I sometimes think I should be in the Frog Clan. I live in two worlds and I'm not at home completely in either."
"So do I. My mother scares the men in our camp; she's so--Creek. They don't understand. My father should get some kind of Peace Honor for understanding her so well."
The cow was all right. They unhitched it and brought it up to the cart, where Emily was waiting. "Emily, I'd like you to meet Charles Brings. He's my cousin." Emily's eyes grew round. She smiled at Charles, and shook his hand.
"Hi Charles. I thought you were Sioux. And how did you know you were related? Oh, the medallions are the same. No wonder you were startled. Hi."
Charles laughed. He looked from Emily to Sariah and back. He raised an eyebrow at Sariah. Sariah felt herself blushing. What was it about relatives that made all your secrets an open book? Sariah knew she could hide nothing from him. She slid her arm around Emily as they walked the cow back to camp. It was more than enough time for Ethan to calm the little girls. Sariah wondered why he hadn't come for the cart. Maybe he was mad at Charles.
When they got back to the main group, they were all gathered around Ethan's wagon. Then Sariah could see that Ethan's mother was lying there, in the stillness of death. Charles excused himself. He gave Sariah another hug before he walked away, then waved goodbye to Emily, and mounting his horse, he rode off.
Emily had been pleasantly surprised by Sariah's arm going around her waist. She leaned into the tall woman, shyly watching Sariah's cousin as he approached his horse. He was tall and handsome. He also looked remarkably like Sariah, only with angular cheekbones, and a more bronzed complexion. As he mounted his horse to ride off, Emily noticed the knot of people gathered around Ethan's mother. She was still, and pale--then it hit Emily that she was dead. Ethan had his head leaned against the rail on the back of his wagon. He looked sick. The children were pressed close to him.
Emily looked at Sariah, then at Ethan. She gave Sariah's arm a quick squeeze and walked over to Ethan. She placed her hand on his shoulder. "Ethan."
He didn't move.
"I'm sorry she's gone."
Ethan turned and looked at her, his face full of sorrow. "So am I. She wanted just to make it to the Valley."
"Was it her dying wish?"
Ethan's face colored. Then he glared at Sariah. He touched Emily's shoulder, looking into her eyes. "No, her dying wish was that I not court you."
A shock ran through her body. What had she done to the old lady? She had never once been rude, and had helped her often, even back in Winter Quarters. "What did I do?"
He ran his fingers through his hair. "You did nothing wrong. It's just that you come as part of a set. I don't care for your friend and you are so attached to her. I didn't want to separate you two."
Emily found herself wondering why anybody wouldn't care for Sariah. "If you just knew her better, you'd like her."
"For one thing, she's never going to learn to be a lady, and I really don't want a br . . . that type of woman around my daughters."
Emily found herself getting angry. She suspected what this might be about, but with an effort, controlled her tongue. "You don't want your daughters around someone who personally knew the prophet and is one of the finest and most honest women I have ever met?"
Her voice sounded mild, especially since she had to restrain herself from poking him in the chest with her forefinger. She knew she didn't want to fight with a man who had just lost his mother. Emily turned on her heel and went back to Sariah.
The hot sun beat down on the lone rider coming up the Oregon Trail. He was riding a mare, and he was so deep in thought, he could have been solving all the problems of the world. Riding the new horse felt strange. Captain Porter kicked it again for more speed. Stupid thing. Well, at least she hadn't made him mad like the other one. He gritted his teeth in anger over the way the horse had irritated him, causing him to lose his temper. Then it up and died on him. Since when did a little beating cause that? It wasn't as if the horse was someone weak, like his wife had been.
Oh well, there was nothing to be done about it. She was dead now, and her brother would come after him. That Danite had no understanding. He would track him unless he had something--okay, the one thing that would stop him. If he could take Sariah back, Porter Rockwell would have to leave him alone.
Besides, he had stolen her in the first place. Sariah was his daughter, and of all the things people had stolen from him down through the years, that theft hurt the most. And Rockwell had spoiled her. Had given her some fancy idea that she could plan her own future--that she was her own person. Well, the law was on his side. The hell with Porter Rockwell. He also winced a bit as he thought it. Fate had a strange sense of humor to make him share a name with his greatest enemy.
The trail dust was in his mouth. He looked at the trail again. Almost to the Platte River Ford, he looked around at the people gathered there. Time to go into his act--he plastered a smile on his face and rode up to the nearest family.
It was a woman--tall and skinny, with a horse face, and her two young boys. There didn't seem to be a man around. That was good. He play acted better to women and kids. He stopped his horse and doffed his hat to her. His smile hurt his lips, she was so ugly.
"Hello, Ma'am. I was wondering if you might have seen my daughter and her friend. They are traveling with a packhorse. My girl is nineteen years old, with dark hair and brown eyes. She dresses like a boy. Her friend is a short, redhead, about sixteen. Have you seen them?"
The little boys hid in their mother's skirts. The woman looked him in the eye. He tried to maintain his sincerest smile, including the crinkle at his right eye that women had said they liked.
"I haven't seen them, no. But we haven't been around other wagon trains. I think there may have been others through here, but I don't know when," she said.
'Bitch,' he thought. "Well, thank you anyways," he said. Then he plopped his hat on his head, wondering what it would feel like to hit her. He smiled to himself. Captain Porter checked several others on the wagon train, then shrugging his shoulders, kicked his horse's flanks, and rode ahead.
The land was woodless. Flat, it stretched out for miles and miles. There was only grass and great buffalo herds. Three days ago they had buried Ethan's mother. Then Emily had prevailed upon Sariah to journey by themselves, for fear of what sins she might commit if she had to travel with Ethan. Sariah had only to see the flash of anger in those green eyes to understand that something had happened. Then Sariah had to field something close to forty questions about her upbringing with her uncle, so she understood that whatever had set Emily off, had something to do with . . . Sariah stood stock-still. She turned and stared at Emily in the afternoon sun.
"What did Ethan say to you?", she asked.
"He told me what his mother said on her deathbed."
"And what did she say?"
"Not to court me."
"Because . . .."
Emily was silent. She looked into Sariah's eyes, and her voice almost pleaded in Sariah's head, "Don't ask.... She didn't want him to marry both of us."
"Yeah, sometimes you are as subtle as a blue jay," said Sariah.
"Okay, make fun of me. At least you didn't call me a rabbit."
"Maybe it wasn't so smart to tell you those Rabbit stories. So, why didn't she want him to marry me?"
Emily squirmed. She closed her eyes, then opened them. "She said you were too unladylike. "
"I am. So what?" she said with a grin.
Emily touched Sariah's hand, tracing the vein on the back of it. Sariah shivered in the hot, dusty trail."I don't like it when people think they know all about you. Why can't people see past the surface? Why don't they know that things like your clothes and manners and heritage aren't who you are?" asked Emily.
"My heritage? Oh, so that was it."
Sariah felt the anger build. For a group of people who were supposed to love the "Lamanites," some of them sure fell down on the job. God, if it wasn't one thing it was another! Sariah felt as if she was running all day long to catch up--to be something she never could be--but that everyone wanted her to become. Everyone except her Uncle and Emily...in this White People's world. She tried, but was it ever going to be enough?
Sariah felt something leave her right then, and she was sad. Emily was going to be gone as soon as they got to Salt Lake Valley. Her Uncle was the target of every Mormon hater in Missouri. She had known from the beginning why he had sent her away. He didn't expect to live long. Sariah blinked her eyes. Hot tears were filling them. She turned her head.
Emily sounded worried. She felt Emily's hand on her cheek. The lump in her chest hurt. Sariah was struggling not to cry. "I won't tell anybody. And I know Buddy won't. Go ahead," said Emily.
With a sob that hurt her whole body, Sariah allowed herself to cry. The tears came fast and furious. She was completely out of control. Several times Sariah tried to turn them off, but they went on and on. "I'll be all alone." Sariah heard herself say in a childlike voice. Now she was even more embarrassed. How could she put her sorrows on Emily like that? It wasn't fair. She felt Emily's arms circle her, and gather her in like a motherless child. She bent her back to Emily's shoulder and wept as waves of embarrassment passed through her.
At long last the storm passed. Sariah firmly took the reins of self-possession. She wiped her eyes and stood. Her back hurt just a bit. Emily's shoulder was all wet. Sariah knew she must look a fright. Emily held up the end of her petticoat for Sariah to wipe away her tears. Finally Sariah's throat opened enough for her to speak again. "I'm sorry. I don't know what got into me," said Sariah.
"It's alright. I came close to crying myself. I have obligations. If I was free to do and be whatever I wanted, you would never be alone again. I love you, Sariah. Don't forget. Even if we are as far apart as Greenland and Australia, if you reach out with your heart, you'll feel my love."
Once again Sariah's heart hurt, only it was a good hurt. She felt connected to Emily as she had never been to any other human being before. She wanted to kiss her, but held back. She was afraid of being swept up in her own feelings. She was afraid of hearing what her body was whispering. Then she heard the words come out of Emily's mouth.
"Sariah, I wish we could have a Boston Marriage. I could give up the whole idea of ever being married to a man, and live a moral and chaste life with you as long as we live," said Emily.
"So do I. But it isn't possible. You'll never make the Celestial Kingdom when you die unless you marry. I could never do that to you."
Sariah looked into the green eyes, and saw the truth there. It frightened her how much she needed this woman in her life. She forced her eyes away, shook herself loose, and looked around at the spot on the trail where they stood. "Are you hungry? We should eat."
Emily seemed to come out of a spell. She looked at the place where they stood. "All we have left is stuff we have to cook. Last I looked we were out of wood. So, now what do we do, Natie Bumpo?"
Sariah laughed at being called by the name of Fenimore Cooper's heroic woodsman. Then she smiled to herself, trying to guess Emily's reaction. "Now we use buffalo chips."
"Buffalo chips? What are those?", asked Emily.
"You know what cow chips are, don't you?"
"No. We don't use that term in New England."
"Do you say cow pie?", asked Sariah.
A suspicious look crossed Emily's face. "Cow pies? Buffalo chips are dried cow pies? Dung? People cook with dried manure? You want me to cook with animal poop?"
"Well . . . yes. It's what everyone else uses."
"Great. If I'm going to cook, you collect it. After all, You are the expert," said Emily.
Sariah inwardly groaned. Now the joke wasn't so funny. She dropped Buddy's reins and went looking for the buffalo chips. She had quite a stack when she heard a rattle. She froze, but brother snake moved on after one warning. Sariah took the chips to Emily and showed her how to build the fire. They burned rather well despite the smell. Soon a pot was bubbling on the fire, with a nice stew inside. Sariah and Emily washed their hands thoroughly. "By the way, Emily, I heard a rattle snake out there. We need to be very careful. Brother snake is afraid of neighbors, and will back his threats with a bite."
"I heard they can kill you."
"Yes. I know what to do, but in the end, it's still all in God's hands."
Then Emily asked the blessing on the food. They ate, and the trace of extra flavor was not bad enough to put them off their meal. They packed up after clearing up, and moved on toward the sunset. After saying so much that afternoon, they walked in companionable silence.
After her outburst, Sariah was silent most of the rest of the day. She held hands with Emily from time to time. It made her feel connected to the rest of the world of humans. Sariah could see Emily was getting tired. Playing nursemaid to Sariah's fears was not helping. The air was somewhat cooler. The ground was rocky, covered with flat pieces of sandstone and agate in places. Sun baked dust held the rocks together. They were low on water. Sariah figured they would have to ration soon if that damnable blue sky held out.
"Let's make camp here," said Sariah.
Here was a knoll atop an arroyo still showing the effects of the last rainstorm. Sariah unburdened a grateful Buddy, then checked the ground for snake holes. She cleared the biggest rocks away, leaving a spot just big enough for the two women to nest in. Emily busied herself preparing a fire ring. There were no buffalo about, so it was time for Emily to gather the sun-dried chips for fuel, and for Sariah to hunt. But it was early, and Sariah was not in the mood to hunt just yet. Neither was Emily. They sat on their bedrolls, which were pushed close together to fit the tight spot. "You know, Sariah. You never told me what it was like to have the Prophet visit your house for dinner? Did you cook?"
And Emily gave her false innocent looks that made her smother a laugh.
"I would never have poisoned Brother Joseph. My uncle can cook. He makes a mighty tasty squirrel stew." At that Emily made a face.
"I could never eat them. They are just too cute. Like Chipmunks . . . or raccoons. So was the Prophet awe-inspiring? Or, really profound?"
"Mostly he was funny, and when Brother Brigham was with him, well all we did was laugh."
Emily looked as if she didn't quite believe what she was hearing. "They joked?"
"Yep. I'll never forget the time Brother Brigham was teasing Brother Joseph about Emma." Emily just shook her head in surprise. "Brother Joseph said he loved her so much that he would follow her to hell and back. Brother Brigham said, 'You may have to.'" Then Sariah slipped an arm around Emily and pulled her close. It felt so good with her softness against her chest. "So, Emily . . . tell me something funny."
The green eyes looked into her soul for just a minute, and Sariah's head spun.
"Johnny and I used to play at a little brook near in our woods. One day we found this astonishing, big turtle. It was a snapper; a huge one. We tossed it in an old, burlap sack and brought it to mother to show off. Johnny held the sack, as it wiggled and churned away. I was jumping up and down, talking the whole time."
"I can imagine," said Sariah.
"Mother backed way up before she would allow us to open the sack. When mother saw the snapper, she envisioned bitten off fingers and things only mothers think about. But she could see how pleased we were. So we proudly took it to the horse's watering trough and put it in a new home."
Sariah felt herself beginning to chuckle. Emily really knew how to tell a story. "I'm glad my horse didn't have to drink from that trough."
"It wasn't really ours anyway. It belonged to our next-door neighbor."
"Oh no, not . . . "
"Mr. Emerson. That's why his horse always chased me whenever he saw me coming."
By now Sariah was laughing outright. She could feel Emily bounce against her chest, but she was caught in a laughing fit. She let go of Emily and held her sides. Emily joined in, laughing for all she was worth. Finally they were able to catch their breath. They wiped tears from their eyes and grinned at each other like fools.
"Oh Sariah, I do like you," said Emily. "You are closer to my heart than anyone."
"Unfortunately, as much as I would like to sit and hear about how wonderful I am, we still need some supper."
Sariah stood up, about to grab her bow and arrows, then stopped. She sensed something, but knew it wasn't buffalo nearby. She took her Colt again, and set off to find some food. The lack of water concerned her some and she didn't want to use any dried food for their meal. Sariah could see Emily set out to gather buffalo chips. They went in different directions. Sariah looking for animal sign, Emily for concentrations of fuel. Sariah thought about repeating her warning about snakes, but figured Emily would remember to be careful. She had, after all, grown up on a farm and knew about snakes.
That appeared to be what they might wind up eating if the lack of other animal sign was any indication. Sariah reached out with her mind and tried to touch any birds in the area. Nothing. Her Grandfather had released her from any obligation not to eat her clan brothers, as she lived in the White world. So she used the special bond to locate them if needed.
"Snake it is," she said to herself. She found one sunning himself on a rock. She aimed, fired, and blew its head off. Then a great sadness filled her. She picked up the snake and turned to head back and prepare their dinner when something warned her. She could see Emily lean down to pick up a buffalo chip, then jerk back. Fastened to her hand was a rattlesnake.
In three steps Sariah was beside her. The snake was thrown clear as Emily jumped back from the bite. Sariah shot the snake then took Emily's hand in both of hers. Forgotten were the snake and the gun. There was a single strike where the rattler had sunk one fang. Sariah had her hand on a stick and was tearing Emily's petticoat before she could form a coherent thought. She made a tourniquet and whipped out her knife, cutting next to the wound. She tightened the tourniquet and began to suck and spit.
Emily's blood tasted bitter from the venom. It made Sariah gag, but she knew that Emily's chances were bad. She very likely would . . . 'No!', she thought. She finished the job, and eased the tourniquet off. Emily was pale and breathing in shallow little breaths. Her skin was clammy and her lips were turning blue. Sariah picked her up and carried her to their little nest. She laid Emily down carefully, handling her as she would an egg. She picked up a canteen and gave Emily a little drink. She could feel Emily working to stay conscious. Sariah slipped a blanket over her. "I'll be right back," she said.
Sariah knew that they did not dare leave fresh meat out as an invitation to wolves or other animals. And she wanted her gun to protect them. She came back with both snakes and her Colt. She glanced at Buddy, who seemed to be just fine. Here was another problem. Water for Buddy. Sariah knelt at Emily's side. Her eyes were closed and she looked even more ethereal. Sariah's stomach hurt as if a mule had kicked her. Her worry about Emily threatened to derail her mind. "I can't. She needs help," whispered Sariah.
She kissed Emily's forehead, then set to work making a fire. She skinned and prepared the snake meat, and put it in the Dutch oven with just a splash of the precious water. With the lid sealed, it would cook with no problem. Sariah went back to overseeing Emily. She could feel her slipping away. Fear gripped her heart and an icy chill followed. She looked at the sweet face of the only love she had ever known besides her uncle and Grandfather. Then she shook as the rage worked its way out of her iron control. Her breathing came hard and she found herself standing, running a short distance away and turning, hands flailing, feet stomping in a spontaneous dance of anger.
A yell ripped itself loose from her throat. "Nooooo! Take me instead."
And she stood, as the sky went pink, then blood red. She was glaring at the sun--waiting to see if God knew enough to take the sinner and leave the sinless. Then Sariah remembered that someone had to take care of Emily. She hung her head. She felt the impact as she fell to her knees on the rocky ground.
"I didn't mean it," she said, "just help us, please, Heavenly Father."
Her mind skimmed every scripture she knew, then she turned her face heavenward, and fought to speak when her throat felt as if she was ripping it open with every word. She remembered the Lamanite King's prayer. It matched her feelings.
"Creator--Heavenly Father, if you are. And if you are there right now, cause Grandfather and the Church and Emily all say so . . . and I need you to be. She's so good and faithful and you know I'm not. I promise I'll take good care of her, and I'll give her to her husband even though I love her to the depths of my soul--I'll do that--I'll even admit you are there, if you'll just let her live. Please just . . . "
Her body slumped to the earth as the world went away. Sariah opened her eyes.
It was dark. Emily was lying a short distance away. She got up, and looked curiously at the strange ladders of light extending from the sky to the earth. Thinking of Jacob's Ladder, she walked over to one and tested it with her hand. It held her weight easily. Sariah began climbing, hand over hand. At the top, she saw swirling clouds that were somehow a light brown color. She waited, and they opened to let her through. Her head and shoulders moved through the hole, and she looked in wonder at the beautiful green country around her. Lush grass and trees heavy with foliage surrounded a spring with meandered through the place. Butterflies flew, only very slowly.
Sariah was staring at this place when she noticed a bear standing at the head of a bridge over a deep and narrow chasm. She climbed onto the land and approached the bear. The bear looked at her and she realized that she should give it food. Sariah searched her pouch and found a bit of hardtack. She gave it to the bear, who snuffled it then ate. Sariah found herself crossing the bridge.
There was a curious building on a little hill to the left. Sariah stared at it. The rounded walls and cone shaped roof were somehow familiar. She went inside and was amazed to find drums hanging from the rafters. Sariah was drawn to one particular drum; a hide pulled over a Bee Gum log about a foot and a half long and as wide as both her hands at full span. Something told her to take it. Sariah could feel her ancestors there.
With her drum in hand, Sariah found her way to a valley between two rocky cliffs. They smashed together like a child clapping hands. Sariah waited until they were the furthest apart, then ran for all she was worth. She had nearly gotten through when the rocks smashed together on the heel of her right leg. The pain was incredible. Sariah fell to the ground, crying out, but hanging onto her drum.
She forced herself to her feet. Limping with every step, she worked her way to a hidden glen. A crow cawed noisily from a dead pine limb overhead. There was a huge bolder, and she could feel power coming from behind it. Sariah stepped forward. A grimace crossed her face as she stepped on her injured foot. Forcing the pain down into some part of her that could hold it, she walked around the boulder. There was a seat carved into the rock, and enthroned on the seat were twins. One was Indian and the other was White. They were dressed in curious, old-fashioned clothing, with strange figures embroidered along the yokes. The two women regarded her curiously.
"Hullo," said Sariah.
"Hello," said the twins together.
"Who are you?" asked Sariah.
"We are your ancestors."
Sariah recalled her manners, and having nothing else, gave them the drum. They examined it, and their eyes danced. Sariah smiled. Then the twins stood up and while the White twin played the drum, the Red twin danced. Sariah's head and heart were overtaken by the beat. She wanted to dance, but every step hurt beyond belief. The twins traded places so that the Red twin played the drum and the White twin danced.
When both twins had either drummed or danced for exactly the same time, a great rushing sound came. The sky grew dark with thousands of birds, who swirled and dipped. Some even flew upside down. At a word from the Red twin, they flew inside Sariah's body. The warmth inside her felt like the sun on a hot day. At a word from the White twin, the sound of slithering slipped across the grass. A wave of snakes came forward. At first Sariah was afraid. Then she realized that if her clan among Indians was the Bird Clan, that her clan among Whites could be the Snake Clan. She had killed two snakes. She had sinned against her Clan brothers.
"Forgive me", Sariah said to the snakes. They hissed and the sound resonated within her soul. Then they surrounded her. Sariah gulped, then opened herself to their help. One came along and licked her injured heel. The pain was gone. She looked at it gratefully. Its little pink tongue flicked in and out. When she smiled at the sight, the snakes entered her body. For the first time in her life, Sariah felt confidence. She felt that she was in charge. She felt in balance.
She turned to thank the twin ancestors, but they were gone. The drum remained behind. As Sariah went to pick it up, it changed into an eagle. This eagle was so large; Sariah could easily ride on its back. She climbed aboard, the eagle took off. Sariah patted its feathers, and smiled at the sensation of flying.
Above the trees and grass, they flew at an amazing height. At last, the eagle came down into a clearing. The clearing looked like a pasture. In the pasture, was Emily, slumped into a heap. The eagle landed, and Sariah leapt off its back. She ran over to Emily. Somehow she knew she could heal her.
Emily opened her eyes and looked into Sariah's. "You can't help me until you know my true name and I know yours," she said.
"Then what is your true name?" asked Sariah.
"Abigail," said Emily.
"Abigail. My name is Sonkv (Shongah)," said Sariah.
Sariah took Emily's injured hand in hers and saw a little black snake inside the fang mark. She captured it in her fingers and pulled gently until it was out. Then she blew on it. The snake turned into a little Blackbird and flew away. Emily got to her feet and after Sariah stood, they hugged.
"Now we need to find my sisters," said Emily.
Sariah followed as Emily took off at a run. In the corner of the barn, a younger Emily was weeping. Sariah reached out and touched her shoulder. She looked at Sariah in wonder, then at Emily, the Elder.
"Come with us," said Sariah.
The girl stood, and took Emily the Elder by the hand. They merged before Sariah's eyes. Then the two of them set off hunting again. At a horse trough sat a very young Emily, looking down into the water. As the others approached, she looked up.
"Go away. You don't want to be around someone so foolish," she said.
"We are all foolish from time to time. We are all wise from time to time. We can't sit still and let time move around us," said Sariah.
The little girl stood up, and hugged Sariah, then Emily. As they merged, Sariah somehow knew they had only one more to find. She called the eagle with her mind. As it flew up and landed, she helped Emily on his back, then joined her. The bird took off smooth as silk. They flew for a long time until they got to a raging river of a size that could only be the mighty Mississippi. On the shore sat an Emily who was dark with despair. Her eyes were heavy and her soul was as brass. Sariah leapt off the eagle again and took the girl into her arms. At her touch, the girl's face filled with light and health. She smiled, and kissed Sariah on the cheek. Then she hugged the other Emily, and they merged.
There was an excitement beyond hunting, beyond running, beyond riding wild on a good horse. Sariah was fit to burst, she was so happy. They flew on the eagle back to the ladder of light. Then the two--or was it five--descended to the ground.
Sariah woke with a start. It was day. She looked at the sun. It was almost directly overhead. Emily was nearby. Sariah stood then fell heavily to her knees. She was exhausted. She crawled to Emily's side. Fear gripped her heart. But Emily was still breathing. Sariah could see how sunburned poor Emily was. She reached out with her fingers to feel Emily's pulse. It was steady and strong. Her breathing was good. Then an eagle flew overhead and circled. Sariah's heart raced as a grin broke over her face. She dug furiously in her pouch for some tobacco. She threw a pinch of it into the air. "Mvto," she said. "She's gonna be okay."
Emily stirred, then opened her eyes. She starred at Sariah, as if trying to remember something. "Shongah," she said.
Tears stung Sariah's eyes. She took Emily's uninjured hand between hers and held it. "Abigail," said Sariah.
When Emily was comfortable, Sariah took the snake meat out into the desert and buried it. She again asked the snakes to forgive her. Then she cleaned the Dutch oven thoroughly. She examined Buddy, who was beginning to show signs of sluggishness from thirst. Sariah gave her portion of water to her horse, saving the rest for Emily. Her mouth was dry, but she knew she needed it less than the others did.
She prayed for rain, knowing that it was their only hope. Then she comforted Buddy with her touch and went back to Emily. She put up the lean-to for shade. Emily's fair skin burned readily. Sariah looked at the back of her hand. She was a deep brown color. Her heritage was pretty obvious at this point. So here they were with almost no water and Emily not quite well enough to move on. Sariah walked back to Emily. "How are you feeling?"
"Glad to be alive. My sunburn hurts, my hand hurts and my head aches. Other than that, I'm fine."
"We don't have much water. I don't want you up walking around yet, so I want you to do a really important job staying right where you are," said Sariah.
"Pray for rain. Pray for water--anything you can think of." The green eyes looked troubled. Then Emily nodded. "Okay, I'll do it. What will you do?"
Sariah glanced over her shoulder at the rocky and sandy ground. "I'm gonna look for water."
Sariah leaned over and took the shovel from the pack. While she was leaning over, she kissed Emily, then stood up. If Heavenly Father had worked a miracle to heal Emily, he wouldn't let them die of thirst out here. Sariah turned and walked toward the dry arroyo. She stood, examining it as she waited.
There were dead, stripped branches and rocks, as well as half-rotted weeds at the same level about a yard down from the top. That would be the high water mark during a flash flood. A second, lighter watermark was down about five feet below that. Sariah swept her eyes down, noting the handholds and foot rests as she did. At last a mouse scurried to the bottom of the arroyo. The mouse sniffed then dug down, disappearing. Sariah noted the spot. A minute later, the mouse emerged, its coat damp and bits of mud clinging to it. The mouse had found water. There was a big difference between enough water for a mouse, and enough for two humans and a horse.
Sariah carefully worked her way down to the dry bed of the arroyo. She started to dig where the mouse had tunneled. By the time she had dug a foot, her upper back was feeling it, and her arms and hands were tired. Sariah flexed them a minute, then continued digging. Her throat was dry. Her tongue was sticking to the roof of her mouth.
The next shovel full uncovered damp earth. Sariah dug deeper and harder. Water started to seep in. Sariah was already planning how to bring Buddy to this spot, when something stopped her. Sariah felt disoriented--then sprang up to the highest handhold she could reach. The earth rumbled. Sariah scrabbled up the side of the arroyo, as fast as she could move, but she could hear the rumble now, as a distant flash flood headed right for her under the clear, blue sky.
Sariah's fingers dug into the handholds as her boots scrambled for the rocks that would hold her weight. She could hear the roar of water, and did not dare turn to look at it for fear of wasting precious time. The flood line was well over her head. She felt as if she was inching her way up the side of the arroyo.
Her ears were full of the sound now, and she tightened her jaw and pushed herself harder. Then she saw the fluttering blanket heading toward her. She wrapped her left hand in it and using it as her lifeline, scrambled up over the top. She fell on her face, grateful for the dry ground under her, then glanced up to see Emily and Buddy, working together to pull her to the top. Buddy still had a corner of the blanket in her teeth. She dropped it and nuzzled Sariah. Sariah reached up with one hand and patted the mare's nose. With the other, she slipped an arm around Emily and held on for dear life.
Emily wrapped her arms around Sariah, holding her close. She was breathing hard. Then the brown eyes looked into hers and Emily waited for her first words after such a close brush with death. Sariah gave her a grateful smile. "Did you have to pray quite so hard?" she asked.
She and Emily started to laugh. They held each other even though it hurt. Then Sariah got up, helped Emily to her feet, and brushing her fingers through her hair, kissed her gently.
"Thank you. You saved my life. Now, let's see about getting some of that water you prayed for."
They went back to the lean-to and yanked every pot, bottle, canteen and canvas water bag they had out of the pack. Then they took them to the side of the arroyo and looked down. The flood waters roiled with boulders and dead tree limbs. Emily gasped thinking of Sariah down there. She could picture her being hit by a tree limb and drowning. She shivered.
"How will we get the water?" she asked.
"We wait. This is the high watermark. There were two of them, so we sit tight and wait for the second wave to come through. When it settles down, we can get some good water."
"Sariah, how did you come to know so much?"
"The Lord has seen fit to give me many talents," said Sariah.
But somehow the silly grin wreaked her perfect imitation of a pious young lady. Emily hugged her again. It felt so good to hold her. Emily was aware of her sunburn pain, but ignored it to be close to Sariah. She sent a quick prayer to God to thank him for saving Sariah.
Sure enough, the first flood receded. Then the second came, with almost the same power, but less enthusiasm. Emily watched, fascinated. Finally a mere trickle of water, compared to the two floods, arrived. It looked and behaved like any normal river. Sariah climbed down the muddy bank, then signaled that Emily could follow. She moved slowly, slipping on the muddy patches, but hanging onto every little bush she could find. At the bottom, she helped fill every water container they had.
Then it hit her. Emily stood straight up. She looked at Buddy, then the water. The trip down the side of the arroyo with the muddy sides was going to be dangerous for the thirsty horse.
"What about Buddy?"
"We can bring water up to her, and then refill some of these pans and things. She'll be fine."
"How long do we have water then?"
Sariah stood up, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. She looked at Emily, then at the water. She gazed at the water for a minute, then back at Emily. "I think at least a couple of hours."
Emily remained behind as Sariah took a full, heavy pot of water to Buddy, then watched as she drank. Her tongue lapped neatly, as if the big mare was afraid to lose a drop. When the pot was empty, Sariah climbed down again. They refilled the pot and Sariah took it back to Buddy. Then the two of them formed a relay line of sorts, with Emily at the bottom and Sariah halfway up the top. As each container was passed to her, Sariah carried it to the edge of the arroyo, and set it down. With the last of the containers, Sariah helped Emily to the top. They moved the containers to their shelter, and drank gratefully from the full canteen. The water felt so good going down. Emily knew not to be greedy, but her body didn't listen, and she had drunk almost half a canteen before she knew it. Sariah was more careful, and Emily could see her mentally calculating the amount of water they had and the distance to the next water hole.
While Emily caught her breath, Sariah started a small fire. Emily watched her expert movements as she got out her flint and steel, then her bit of charred tinder. She grasped the tinder between one thumb and forefinger and then sliced the flint chip along the steel that covered the knuckles of her other hand. In just two tries, she caught the spark in the tinder and blew it into a flame, then used it to start the buffalo chips on fire.
"You are so good at that. You'll have to teach me sometime."
"Hmmm? Oh, sure. How's your sunburn?"
"It hurts. I look like a lobster."
"Oh, are they red?"
"Only when cooked," grinned Emily.
Sariah shook her herb pouch out of her bag and opened it. She drew out some Tansy. Emily had no idea what it was for; just that she wasn't really fond of the flavor.
"What's that for?" she asked.
"It will help your sunburn.
"Good, because it hurts like Hell."
Sariah turned to her, eyes as round as saucers.
"Emily, what did you say?"
"I'm sorry. I learned that from Father. He used to talk to the horses that way when he couldn't get them to obey him."
"Best not let Richard Purdy hear that."
Emily caught her breath. She had all but forgotten Brother Purdy. She was going to be married as soon as she arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. And her stomach hurt thinking about it. She was crossing a continent to marry a man she had never met. Why? For survival? After this trek with Sariah, she began to wonder if maybe she couldn't survive on her own. She knew how to farm. It was just a matter of getting some land. But she was penniless. How could she get land? Sure, the church was dividing it up between family heads, but she was not the head of a family. 'What would Sariah do?', she asked herself. Then the answer came to her. "Sariah, what do you intend to do after we reach the valley?"
Sariah poked the fire with a bit of driftwood, and looked thoughtful. "I have a plan, but I'm not sure of how I'm gonna do it. I want to go back on the trail and help people, so I guess I'll stay in the mountains and trap for a while until I have enough supplies to do it. The people at Fort Bridger pay pretty well for fur, and I'm a good trapper."
"Oh. If you were me, and if you wanted to make your own way in the world, what would you do?"
"I don't know. You know plenty. You could sew and cook for folks, and make them comfortable when they miss those things about their old homes. Aren't there places back East that pay for poetry and all of that?"
"Yes, there are."
"Why are you asking?"
Emily looked down at the ground, and blushed, knowing that with this sunburn Sariah would not know. How could she say, "I have been watching you, and I admire your freedom?" She couldn't.
"Men don't live forever," she finally said.
Sariah took at clean cloth and dipped it in the tansy tea. She wrung it partially dry, then beckoned to Emily. Emily walked over to Sariah and sat by the fire. As she sat, Sariah moved the wet cloth over her sunburn and the fire was soothed. Emily gave a sigh of relief and relaxed completely for the first time since the snake had bitten her. Sariah's strong, sure hands re-dipped the cloth and every bit of the sunburn was soothed. Then Emily went up to the lean-to and rested.
She must have fallen asleep. When she woke up, Sariah handed her a bowl of warm soup. It was so nice to have something liquid again. She held it, watching the sloshing in the bowl as she dripped her spoon in and brought the wonderful meal to her lips. There were chunks of meat that Emily knew had once been jerky, and bits of vegetables. There were even some sunflower seeds from their stop at the edge of Omaha country. Emily thought back to those friends, and now family, and prayed for their safety.
After their supper, Sariah sang for her. The Stephen Foster songs always made her cry, and, "Old Dog Tray" was no exception. She wiped the tears away as it was time for bed. Somehow they both knew it was the thing to do. They got on their knees together, held hands and closed their eyes.
"Heavenly Father, thank you for our lives. This has been a trying couple of days, but thank you for the water, for healing me, and for keeping Sariah safe from the flood. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
Then Sariah joined in, which sent chills up Emily's spine.
"Creator, thank you that we survived. That water was a good joke. Thank you that Emily and Buddy saved me. Thank you for teaching me to heal folks. I thank my grandfather also. Mvto. I thank you that I am free. Mvto. I wish the same for all. Mvto."
It was dark, and they looked into each other's eyes. They drew closer and closer, then kissed. Emily felt joy down to her fingertips. They wrapped their arms around each other and slept.
At dawn, Emily found her eyes wide open. She and Sariah were wrapped around each other and Sariah was still sleeping. She had worked so hard yesterday that Emily just sat and watched her sleep. Sariah's dark tan brought out her Indian features. Ones Emily hadn't really noticed before. Her cheeks were big and her nose was strong. Emily wished she knew how to draw better, because this beautiful face deserved to be preserved for posterity. The black hair made a single curl down Sariah's shoulder. Emily reached out and touched it, amazed again at its stiffness and strength. Everything about this woman looked as if she has been forged of bronze. Maybe Vulcan himself had formed her. No, Emily knew it had been her hard life. Then she remembered that her own life hadn't been so easy. So, what was it about Sariah that made her so strong? Maybe she hadn't been expected to live up to society's ideals for young women.
Time slipped away as Emily found herself back in Mr. Emerson's big library. He had invited her to borrow a book to read. She lingered over the rich leather bindings, examining each title and thinking about what to choose. Finally her hand was drawn to a book of Greek Myths. Mr. Emerson had been pleased with her choice.
"I do like that one. I think you will too," he said. His piercing eyes looked at her from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"I want to know everything I can. I have heard that you need a foundation in the classics to understand the poets today."
"At last, a young woman who doesn't prefer French Novels and recipe books. Good for you."
Emily started pacing, a nervous habit she had when she was excited.
"Mrs. Alcott says a woman's mind is as good as a man's and I intend to make the most of my education. I want to see the world in all its splendor, to visit Europe, and even China. I want to understand how people think, and to write myself some day."
"Just don't let yourself be tied down by ideas others have about what women should or shouldn't do. Don't be afraid to do the unconventional, like our friend Thoreau."
Sariah moved in her sleep and Emily's mind came back to the little lean-to on the Mormon Trail. With a sigh, she realized how she had failed herself in some ways. Then she stifled a laugh as she thought about what Mr. Emerson might have to say about her now. She was a Mormon, going West alone with an Indian who was a Romantic Friend. Now, talk about unconventional!
Emily gazed down at Sariah again, only to see something like panic written across her face. Her eyes moved rapidly under her lids and her breathing was shallow. She began to move her head in small, jerky movements. She must be having a nightmare. This would be the second time, and Emily well remembered the result of the last attempt to wake Sariah from a nightmare.
"Sariah, this is Emily. You are having a bad dream. Sariah, I'm going to start making a lot of noise now. Sariah! Wake Up!" Emily threw her hands over her face as Sariah jerked awake.
It was startling how light her eyes looked in such a tanned face. Sariah gulped. Then she slowly sat up. "Emily, I didn't hit you again, did I?" she asked.
"No, I've learned not to touch you until you are awake. Are you alright?"
"I had a terrible dream. I dreamed of my mother."
Emily settled herself to listen. Sariah was less than forthcoming about her original family, so Emily was preparing herself for just about anything. Sariah took a deep breath and looked at the sky. Her voice seemed far away.
"I dreamed she was dead, and that she came to me to ask my forgiveness for . . . everything."
"What did you do?"
"I wanted to hate her, but I kept remembering how he would beat her. One time she told me to get a gun so he could shoot her. I took it and ran off, so he couldn't kill her."
"How old were you?", asked Emily.
"I was nine. That's when he started . . . you know, hurting me. I think it was to get to her. I remember she tried to talk to my Uncle before, but he wouldn't let her speak to anyone. Maybe she was trying to get him to rescue me. She was beautiful again, even though she was dead. Peaceful, and sad."
"Did you forgive her?"
"Yep, I even told her I loved her. That's when she said he was following us. I got real scared. I saw Uncle Orrin all tied up and I was so far away, and everything was mixed up. I was really glad to see you when I woke up."
Emily slipped her arms around Sariah, confused as to who the strong one was. They held each other far longer than was proper, and Emily's heart soared. Finally Sariah pulled away and looked into Emily's eyes. The love there was astonishing. Emily was about to say something when Sariah's eyes looked down at her and registered surprise. Sariah touched the bridge of her nose and asked,
"What are those?"
"What are what?"
"Those spots. I mean, I know you had some of them freckles, but now there's a whole lot more of spots on your face and hands, and even other places. How did they get there?"
"From the sun, Sariah. Didn't you know?"
"Know what? I never knew anybody really well that had them before. Everybody I know just tans."
Emily laughed. Sariah gave her a crooked smile, lowering her lashes as she did, and making Emily's heart skip a beat.
"So the sun makes you get freckles instead of a tan?"
"Yes, any other questions?"
"Yep. Is everybody with red hair . . . is their hair so soft? I mean yours doesn't hardly feel real."
"I think so. I mean I can't speak for everyone with red hair, but in my family, we all have this baby-fine hair that you can't do anything with."
"I love it. It's like petting a kitten."
"I like your hair. It has character. I can't do anything with mine."
"Mine is too heavy. But I like the noise it makes when it's wet and it hits something. It's like a soft beaver tail hitting the water."
They both laughed at that one then looked at each other. Emily caught her breath. They were going to kiss and it wouldn't be a little peck. She just knew it. Emily closed her eyes, even though she wanted to peek. She leaned forward, feeling her breath mingle with Sariah's. Her pulse was racing as their lips came closer and closer. Their lips touched, and instead of immediately backing away, they leaned in closer. The warmth of Sariah's lips filled Emily's whole body like warmed honey. Then they heard the horse. They turned as one to look.
Far away, a rider came closer. He was on a big roan. He was a White man, with full saddlebags; a hat, jacket, shirt and trousers that all looked homespun and his boots had the look of someone who had been on the trail for days. Sariah reached for her Colt. She stood, waiting for the man to draw closer. His grizzled beard and hair were dusty, as was his face and clothes. He had the weary look of a man who has been riding hard for a long time. He approached warily.
"Hello. I'm a messenger headed to Salt Lake Valley. I'm looking for water. Is there any nearby?"
"What's your name, stranger?" asked Sariah. Her tone brooked no refusal.
"My name is Aaron Boren."
Sariah lowered her pistol and smiled at the man. "My uncle knows you. I heard him speak highly of you," she said.
"Who is your uncle?"
"Orrin Porter Rockwell," said Sariah proudly.
Boren winced. He reached up and stroked his beard, thinking.
"My message is about him. I'll tell you about everything if you water my horse and me."
Sariah watched as he dismounted. "I would have anyway. Rules of the Trail."
She led his horse to a kettle of the water they had saved, while Emily took their visitor to their lean-to. He waited outside, being very proper, as Emily gave him a canteen to drink from.
"This seems an unlikely place to camp," he commented.
Emily re-stoppered the canteen and turned to look at Boren.
"It wasn't exactly our choice," she said. Then she showed him the healing fang mark on her hand. He whistled softly.
"That was close. You are lucky to be alive."
"I know I am. I'm almost better, so I think we can travel soon."
Sariah walked up, leading the roan. She handed the bridle back to him. "Make yourself comfortable," she said.
Boren relaxed on the nearest bit of blanket. Sariah suddenly grew quiet and solemn. She looked him in the eye.
"What happened to my Uncle?" she asked.
"He's been hiding out. He tried to kill someone."
Boren hid a smile. "Lilburn P. Boggs," he said.
" And he missed?" asked Sariah.
" He shot him through a window. I'm kinda sorry he missed, too."
"Do you think they'll bother with a trial?" asked Emily.
"Nope. That's why he's hiding out. If anyone had lifted a finger to protect the Saints when mobs were trying to kill them, I might have more sympathy for the law, but . .. "
"You can't have one law for the Gentiles and one for us," said Emily.
There was a long silence as Sariah looked at Emily and Emily looked at her. Emily could feel her desire to return to Missouri, to rescue her uncle.
"Sariah, if you have to go . . . "
"I'm not leaving you."
"But you want to go."
"Yes, I want to, but I can't. There is no way you can walk to the valley yourself. Forget about it."
And Emily knew Sariah was speaking to herself as well. They watched Brother Boren mount up and ride away. Then Sariah turned her face east, looking homeward with her brow furrowed from concern. She was so far away from her uncle Orrin that she hurt inside trying to reach out to him. This was the man who had rescued her from her father. The man who had raised her, taught her to hunt, to trap, and to ride. He had placed her first rifle in her hands, and gently shown her how to cock, aim and fire it. He had comforted her when she cried out in the night and never took advantage of her. He was a million times more her father than . . . that monster.
She felt Emily come up behind her. The greatest trust she could show anyone was not to turn around. She felt Emily's arms slip around her and the warmth and love flowed into Sariah. She turned and faced Emily, whose face was etched with concern. She eyes were troubled, and yet Sariah felt herself almost fall into them. Her constant iron rod, that kept her out of trouble. She put her strong arms around Emily and held her wordlessly, wishing she could be two places at once.
"Do you want to go back?" asked Emily.
Sariah felt the shock down her spine. Half of her wanted to rush back and defend the only man who had ever loved her. Half of her wanted to stay with the only woman who had ever loved her. "It's not very practical. We are in Wyoming. Wyoming! It is thousands of miles Back East...."
She listened to her friend breathe for a while, then added in a tiny voice. "I wish I could fly. He saved me from having to live with my Pa. If he hadn't taken me away, if Pa hadn't beat me to death, I believe I might have taken my own life. Either that or let him murder my soul like Pa did to my Ma."
Emily gripped her tighter. "Oh Sariah, you are so brave," she said.
"No I'm not. I'm standing here thinking how I want to go back, and what could I do to help him anyways? I would likely wind up killing again, and I don't ever want to do that again. It's too hard on my soul."
"Is there anything your Grandfather taught you that you can do from here?" asked Emily.
The only thing she could do from this distance was to send some sort of guardian with her love and hope for his safely. She contemplated what to send. That was when she felt Emily enter her mind. She felt Emily break their hug. Without a word, they reached out, joining hands. The power of Emily's innate goodness strengthened Sariah. They faced east again and thought of Uncle Orrin. His face was before them. He looked a bit haunted. A darkness surrounded him, as if his troubles obscured the light.
Then a man appeared, dressed in a white robe and glowing with an inner light. He held a sword in one hand. A guardian angel. Sariah knew it was Emily's image, especially since a coyote appeared at his feet. It looked at Sariah and grinned. So, an animal from the West was willing to help. They flew into the air faster than a startled partridge. They were headed to Uncle Orrin for his help and comfort. Then something changed. Sariah's stomach felt queasy. She turned and looked at Emily. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know. The angel should have been alright."
The air became oppressive and heavy. Sariah's stomach lurched. Something was very off. She and Emily hit their knees in an instant, crying to the Creator for understanding and help. What had she done? They continued their common prayer, as the very planet seemed to whirl and twist around them. A huge wind came up, and hit hard. It was all they could do to keep from being knocked over. Then the sun came out in the narrowest of beams, and just under the beam was a lone figure, walking toward them.
Sariah's heart, so heavy before, lifted. She smiled at Emily. They stood, helping each other to their feet. The figure was that of a man, straight and tall, and dressed as any other man, but his face was shining with an Inner Light. His skin was so white as to be almost translucent, and he was the oldest looking individual Sariah has ever laid eyes on. Finally the man was close enough to be heard.
"Hello. Do you need some help?" he cheerfully asked.
And Sariah, the one whose trust was rare and had to be earned, opened her heart to him. "We were sending my uncle some medicine and I did something wrong," she said.
Emily looked at her in shock. Her eyes were as round as cartwheels.
"Oh, I think I know what you did. You didn't see Coyote around did you? I can feel him," said the man.
"Yes. That is the animal who volunteered to help, so I sent him."
"You aren't from around here, are you?" he said.
"No. I grew up in Missouri," said Sariah.
"And I am from Massachusetts," added Emily.
"You must be very careful in a new place, to know the land spirits. I have been around these lands a few years. I know the ways of nearly every tribe. Coyote is a bad one. You never trust him."
"Uh oh. What have I done?" asked Sariah.
"He will have the help he needs because so many good people are praying for him, but your mistake will cost you both, I'm afraid. His reputation will suffer for all time. And you will have to face your worst fear."
His voice was gentle, but Sariah's heart went cold with fear. A silent terror was entering her. Her worst fear? Would something happen to Uncle Orrin or to Emily? Would she--no, she thrust the very thought from her mind. She composed herself. "What can I do to fix things?"
"What is done, is done, but from now on, be very wary of using any image or animal that comes along. Use only the familiar. Yes, it is more powerful if it comes from the land, or the tradition of your people, but take the time to learn the local land spirits before trying to get them to help you."
He smiled then, and Sariah felt almost as warm as when she was feeling close to Emily. He turned to Emily then, and smiled at her. She was beaming.
"Yes, you know who I am. You are a good woman. Let your heart guide you, not your head especially when it comes to planning your future. The things you have kept in your heart are not wrong. Examine them in your peaceful moments. There is much good you can do--And that good will be passed from you to future generations." With those final words, he suddenly disappeared into thin air. Sariah felt her knees grow weak with the shock.
"Emily, he said you knew who he was, so . . . who was he?"
"He was one of the Three Nephites," said Emily.
Sariah sat down. Her legs felt like rubber. She put her head in her hands. She had messed up so badly that one of the three Nephites, who had asked Jesus for eternal life so they could help people forever, had to come and bail her out. She felt Emily kiss the top of her head. She smiled, thinking that with their height difference, Emily rarely even saw the top of her head.
"You know, Sariah, we have been really blessed. I wish . . . " Emily fell silent, which was rare enough that Sariah suspected that what she was not saying was very important to her. "What do you wish?"
"I wish that when you are out on the trail, helping people, that I could be right beside you. But, I'm getting married, so I suppose . . .."
Sariah's heart soared, then crashed. The words, "I'm getting married" echoed in her head. 'Fool,' she thought to herself, 'she can't love you the way you want her to.'
"Richard Purdy must be a righteous fellow, or he wouldn't be able to take a second wife," she said as her heart broke.
Emily was on her knees in a second, face to face with her. Her green eyes flashed in anger. "Oh, inconstant heart. You have held mine in your hands. Do you care so little?"
Sariah was shocked. She had thought Emily was telling her that duty would override love. "I care, oh Emily, I do care with all that I am."
She watched in horror as Emily wept. She put her arms around the heaving shoulders and held Emily close to her heart. She wondered what would happen to them by the time they got to Salt Lake Valley. They were Romantic Friends, and now Emily was talking about not parting at the valley. Was she thinking of not getting married? And did Sariah have the right to tear her from her own people, and take her on a dangerous trip for half of every year? Sariah knew that she had no chance at the Celestial Kingdom after death, but Emily was pure and innocent. She needed only to be married and have children to become as God when she died. Sariah wanted to have a chance at happiness in this life, but could she take away eternal happiness from the woman she loved?
Then all thought was pushed out of Sariah's head as Emily's lips touched hers. The joy that filled her was more than she had ever felt at any time in her entire life. Their lips lingered. The kiss was like warm maple syrup.
'What am I doing?' thought Emily. 'I should do my duty and marry. I should have children. I should be a good wife. I love Sariah so much I hurt. I can't have both. She is teaching me every day to be myself. I am discovering who I am. I don't want to leave her side--ever. Even if I have to go live with the Indians. I would do it, gladly.
'Maybe I could marry Richard Purdy and keep Sariah as a Romantic Friend. A lot of women do it. She might be able to see me in the winters. I know she can't be on the trail in the winter. But I can imagine how I would feel wrapped in her arms, under a pile of quilts on a cold morning. If I'm married, we can only hold hands and kiss some--if my husband doesn't object. But what if he does?'
Emily kissed Sariah again, amazed at her own audacity. She was a bit afraid that Sariah would think badly of her for doing it, but they were like a magnet and iron. The pull on their spirits was invisible, but impossible to ignore. Sariah's thumb was tracing the edge of her jaw and Emily closed her eyes, the better to feel it. She took Sariah's head in her hands and laid it on her bosom. She felt like Ruth in the Bible, with Naomi. She knew they had been Romantic Friends. She just knew it. But her mind was all awhirl. What was she going to do?
Emily's mind was occupied by indecision for days. She felt as if it had moved in with a steamer trunk, taken off its boots, made dinner, and was relaxing on the divan. She would look at Sariah and think of how she felt around her. Of the strong bond of love that held them, of the ideas that came crashing into her head whenever she contemplated living her life out with Sariah.
She found herself walking a great distance looking at her own feet. The boots she was wearing even bothered her conscience. Sariah, who had been concerned for her comfort from that first time they met, had given them to her. And, Bishop Martin, a fine example of a Priesthood bearer, had given them to Sariah. They were so sturdy, those boots. Of heavy cowhide, held together with strong waxed linen. The battered appearance just showed how well made they were. The boots were made without laces to break and their dusty brown almost blended with the dirt beneath her feet.
She thought about what she would have after death, eternally separated, with no chance at eternal increase, or a continuous motherhood, the highest calling of all. Or was it? What if there was something more? What was Richard Purdy like? He had to be a good man--didn't he? It was kind of him to even offer to marry her so she would have a place in the West where the Saints had gathered. Zion-- the pure in heart. The place where the Saints would dwell. Sariah, the woman who held her heart in her hands.
The sun was hot against the back of her neck. The air was dry and a bit dusty. She felt Sariah come up next to her and take her hand. Her heart lifted. Such a huge hand on a woman. She loved that big hand that covered her own in such a protective way. She had thought of talking Brother Purdy into marrying Sariah as well, but Sariah would have no part of it. She said she needed to be free. But if Emily joined her life with Sariah's, would she be free--or would she be as Sariah's wife and still miss the opportunity for a Celestial Marriage?
If she stayed with Sariah there would be no wifely duty. Emily wasn't sure . . ., her mind stumbled, looking for the word. The closest she could get was "mating" and still it made her nervous. With Sariah, they could kiss and hold each other, and nothing more would be expected. She had heard that having children hurt more than anything she had ever experienced and she was afraid. She was curious. She was terrified. And somehow, maybe because their spirits were linked now, Sariah knew to put her arm around Emily and hold her close. Emily turned then and filled her arms with her great and loving friend.
He had been so angry. He had lost time due to bad weather, and the incompetence of everyone around him. But he was drawing closer now, he could feel it. He could even see it. Chimney Rock was just a point on the horizon. His loins filled with a sweet ache. He hadn't had a woman for weeks now. That dance hall girl seemed a little dirty to him and he had paid for a bath afterwards. But his manhood itched, and he had even gotten a rash. Oh well, that was what happened when you had to pay for what was rightfully yours.
He grinned to himself and pulled his hat at a cocky angle. Not that he had paid, exactly. He had slipped out the window in the middle of the night. Then, there had been all that nonsense about the fella he had to shot for cheating at cards. If he hadn't wanted to die, why did he cheat? He shifted his weight on his saddle. Another new horse. Had to steal one to get away from that town. He started to whistle a lively tune. "Root hog, or die." Yeah, that was the truth. You made your own good luck.
Something caught his eye. He dismounted, feeling his muscles pull a bit from the change in position. Signs of a camp. Hoofprints from Sariah's horse. The peculiar way she always oriented her lean-to so that the rising sun poured into the opening. That little gal was almost all Injun. He laughed to himself, thinking of her listening to all the rubbish that old fart of a father of his told her. She would never survive in this New World. She needed his protection. Her and that little friend of hers.
He examined the ashes of their fire, then the stones around it. Cold. Too bad. He thought of how good it would feel to take both of them in a single night. The itch grew furious, and he took the time to take care of the matter. He left a bit of himself behind in the depression left by their bedroll. He buttoned his trousers and mounted his horse, smiling to himself. 'Soon,' he thought.
When Emily came out of her reverie, she noticed the single spit of rock jutting up into the sky. It looked so close. How could she have missed it? The rock made her feel so small, and, "As a single grain of dust. I now know that man is nothing, a thing which I had never before supposed." she quoted.
"We are nothing alone. But in harmony with all around us, and as part of the great cycle of things, we are life. We have as much right to be here as the grass, the sagebrush and that rock." said Sariah. Then she smiled and Emily's heart was filled with her. She looked into those brown eyes, and the love in her heart overflowed. She might not yet know who she was, but she knew who Sariah was. "I'm sorry I was so unsociable. I had to think about some things. I do know that I love you though," she said.
"I know. Now that you are looking up, look around you. This is right pretty."
And when Emily opened her eyes, she could see the prairie was gone. The grass was short, the ground was littered with rocks and boulders, and the whole area was dotted with clumps of blue- grey bushes. She smelled the air. The pungent smell was unmistakable--sage. Chimney Rock loomed over it all and a little creek meandered nearby, surrounded by the willows Emily had learned to associate with water. The sun was directly over head. Emily regretted that they had so much more walking ahead of them.
"This is beautiful. And it smells so nice. Maybe we can have our lunch here."
"If you want to cook it, I'll eat it."
Sariah got the cooking goods off the saddlebag as Buddy grazed, happy to have her burden off. Sariah gathered firewood while Emily prepared their repast. She cut up the single potato they had left and boiled it. Then made a mixture of a bit of rye flour and corn meal. She added molasses for flavor as well as to hold things together, a dash of salt, ash and vinegar, mashed the potato, added the water she had cooked it in, and kneaded the whole thing. Then she put it in the Dutch oven and let it bake. Sariah showed up with a jackrabbit. They skinned it, and Sariah scraped and salted the fur as Emily cut the rabbit meat into thin strips and threw a tin plate on top of the baking bread to cook the meat.
Sariah's eyes grew wide as she observed Emily's efficiency.
"I never seen such a hand at cooking as you are. You wasted nary a thing," said Sariah.
"Waste not, want not," said Emily.
Then they both giggled as they recalled Emily's little song to the waststral travelers on the Oregon Trail.
"I wonder how Malcolm is these days," said Sariah.
He ate in the saddle, with the chewy jerky wadded into his mouth like chewing tobacco. Gulps of water from his canteen brought him back to his war days. He saw the dusty trail replaced as if by magic by the swamps of Florida. The air hung heavy and oppressive as he waited for General Woodward to lead them into battle--against his own people. His chest tightened as he saw movement in the palmettos. He stopped eating and looked. A Seminole child was looking back at him. Her brown eyes were wide with fright and he thought of his own child back home. There was a voice at his elbow.
"Nits make lice, Lieutenant, kill them all."
His arm raised his rifle, and he shot. The lead ball passed through her forehead. His stomach lurched. He had come out of that war a changed man. He knew what was important now. Got his priorities straight and his captain's stripes all in a single year. These were not his people. The winners were his people. And he was a winner. He had blue eyes, didn't he? He stopped eating and got out his tobacco pouch. He let his fingers pull out a nice wad, and put it in his cheek. He closed the pouch as the flavor filled his mouth. He started chewing. The brown juice flowed. There was enough now, that he could spit. He looked for a good target, a nearby sagebrush, and let fly. The brown spittle flew to its target and landed, hanging in a little branch, then dripping down. He grinned and urged the horse forward. He had work to do.
It had been a long, hot day. Emily could tell that Sariah was in a good mood. She kept humming, and once broke out into a complicated little dance step she called a, "Buck and wing." But Emily's head ached, and she just wanted to sleep. Sariah had kindly prepared their supper, such as it was, and Emily had fairly fallen into their bedroll. Wrapped around Sariah's lanky body, she felt warm and safe.
The hobgoblins in her mind were awake in her dreams. She saw herself surrounded by children. They were all demanding her attention at once. A baby cried, a little one pulled on her skirts, another kept saying, "Mama, Mama, Mama." A pot on the stove bubbled over. Then a strange man walked in and asked for dinner. In the dream Emily began to weep, when a hawk appeared. It grew and grew until it was able to hold Emily on it's back. She climbed on, and rose up into the air. The sensation of flying sent little butterflies through her stomach. They rose until the earth was far below. The stars were close enough to touch. Then she looked down to discover she was flying on Sariah's back. Wingless, her great friend was swooping through the air. Emily leaned down and gave her a little kiss. Then Sariah spoke to her.
"You can fly too."
A combination of a thrill and terrible fear ran through Emily. "No, I can't. I'm from a long line of walkers."
"Watch," said Sariah. And she flew upside down, gently forcing Emily to let go. Emily began to fall at an alarming pace. She wanted to scream at Sariah for doing this to her. "Fly, Emily. You can do it."
Emily stuck her arms out and slowed her fall. She lifted her head, and began to fly. A feeling like no other she had ever had filled her heart. She rode the air, swooping, and turning. She even flew upside down for a bit. Just as she was joining Sariah in paired flights; Emily heard the sound of hooves nearby.
Her eyes flipped open. She was inside the lean-to with Sariah. It was dark. She opened the flap and peeked outside. A huge animal, like a reindeer, stood, holding the moon in it's antlers. Emily thanked God, and went back to snuggle with Sariah.
The shadow of Chimney Rock was out there. And below it, smoke from a campfire. Captain Porter licked his lips. He broke camp, his heart pounding because he could almost smell Sariah in the air. Her femaleness made him dizzy. In the end, Porter Rockwell had done him a favor. The big frontiersman had frightened away anyone who might touch Sariah, and she was all his now. Her and her little friend. It served her right for traveling without a man's protection. Now, sometime in the next day or two, they would be his. His loins stirred at the thought. He scratched them, for they still itched mightily. Then he finished packing the horse, and mounted, riding towards Chimney Rock.
Sariah stood, looking east and frowning. Emily came up behind her and took her hand. Sariah gave her a worried little smile.
"I can't say for sure, but something is back there. I don't like it. Let's go." Emily had been looking forward to a leisurely breakfast, but something, indeed, felt oppressive behind them. She re-packed their cooking wear and food, and helped Sariah break camp. Then they headed out as fast as they dared.
Chimney Rock acted like a huge sundial. Emily could see the shadow move with the sun, going from early morning, with its long and thin shadow, to noon, where the shadow folded itself under the famous landmark. Then it peeked out again, and grew as night crept up on them. When they camped that night, Sariah fiddled with her guns and rifle, re-cleaning and reloading them. Her movements were nervous and once, when a mouse scuttled across the floor, she jumped. It was then that Emily noticed that she was sweating. Emily barely unpacked, giving Sariah some jerky for supper, and doing the same herself. She was growing to hate the stuff. Strings of jerky stuck in her teeth after every meal and it was so dry that she drank far more than her usual share of water. She went off privately to clean the stuff out of her teeth. And to pray for Sariah.
The sagebrush smelled sharp and clean. Emily checked for snakes, and then knelt in the dirt. She poured her heart out to God, speaking of her fears for Sariah. Then a still, small voice spoke to her.
"What about you?"
"I don't need anything. Except for both of us to be protected. I'm scared of what will happen to Sariah. She is like glass right now. If anything bad happens, she could shatter."
"And you refuse to believe that you have wings. How can you fly without them?"
A sob tore at her throat. Emily's fears bubbled up and had a free-for-all. She positively shook. Then she thought back to the afternoon she and Sariah had spent with their Omaha friends, shooting their bows and arrows. She had been so relaxed and so confident. She let the memory fill her. Then she stood up and went to Sariah.
The sun was setting as she walked. Sariah was also in the act of prayer. Emily watched as she stood, facing the sunset, hands upraised. The colors reflecting off her friend made her skin look even more bronzed. Emily waited until Sariah began to move back to her guns. Then she walked up to her. Sariah looked up and half-smiled at Emily. Emily took Sariah in her arms and they kissed.
"I think we both should just keep moving, if you think it's safe. The moon is full, and I would like to get back among people--lots of people," said Emily.
"I agree. Let's do it."
So the two women packed up and moved on in the dark. The full moon shed a light like phosphorous as they walked. Emily could see animal eyes glowing in the dark. She wondered if hers glowed too. And what it might feel like to be an animal, watching them. Then she shivered, as the bad feeling enveloped her. They walked on and on. Emily's legs were tired, but fear kept her moving. She wondered if this was how runaway slaves felt, as they headed north. Finally Sariah called a halt.
"You are too tired. We have to get some rest. And Buddy too." Emily was about to argue, but the big horse did seem subdued. Sariah started a tiny fire, just enough to keep the animals away and they snuggled into their bedroll. Emily fell right to sleep.
It was before dawn, but something woke Sariah. She opened her eyes, and looked at Emily, cuddled up against her. She loved this woman with all of her heart. And she had given her word that she would get her safely into Salt Lake Valley. But the feeling behind her made her react like her Grandfather's tales of the Hvkee (Hahgee), the horrible monster that was even worse than a panther. A panther could suddenly jump down at you, like lightening. The Hvkee was worse.
Sariah shivered. Then something like a flare in the dark of her mind went off. Grandfather--and his tricks to make a trail invisible! Sariah smiled, as she sat up, planning what they needed. There were leather scraps for various repairs. And some heavy cloth for the same reason. And twine. She had come prepared. She got up as the sun was rising in a crescendo of pink and gold. Sariah found the scraps and woke Emily. She handed her friend some jerky and water and watched the poor thing trying to reorient herself on far too little sleep.
"I have an idea."
"I can see it in your face. What is it?" asked Emily.
"Grandfather taught me how to make a trail difficult to follow. It might buy us some time. That is if whatever is back there is human."
So they broke camp, such as it was, reloaded poor Buddy, and then tied the leather around Buddy's hooves and the cloth over their own feet. Sariah pulled up a dead sage plant and swept the ground where they had made camp. Then they moved on.
It was nearly sunset when he got to a fork in the road. Sariah had swept the area and covered their tracks. He swore, anger flaring out for a mile. He needed to back track, or follow each path. The one that was too clean would be theirs. Captain Porter opened his tobacco pouch and got another wad. He chewed as he looked at the tracks again. She was a crafty little Injun. He placed his hand over his eyes, to shade them. He wondered how she could betray him like that, turning away from the White in her. Well, he'd beat it out of her when he got her back home.
He mounted his horse and headed along the main path. The tracks were old, and the wagon ruts worn down. He figured to follow a bit, and see if Sariah would make a mistake. Then it hit him. 'How did she know I was following her? How had he given himself away?' It was rumored that Porter Rockwell had made a deal with the devil. Maybe that was it. Whatever it was, he'd have to be extra sneaky in order to catch up with her.
After a few miles, it was clear that no one had passed that way for at least a few days. There were no broken bits of brush, no flattened hoof prints. Captain Porter turned his horse around, cursing. The sun had set and he had lost the chance to follow. He pitched camp mostly by throwing things, and settling them with a well-placed kick or two. He looked out into the night, hoping to see their campfire. There was nothing out there but a coyote. He threw a rock at it and laughed as it yelped and ran away. He'd catch up with them tomorrow.
At sunrise, Sariah noticed a campsite dead ahead. She felt no danger there, but the feeling behind her made her skin crawl. She turned to Emily, who looked as if she had been walking in her sleep.
"There's someone up ahead. Wait here, and if I signal, take the covers off your shoes and Buddy's hooves, and join us."
Sariah shoved a gun in Emily's hands, and armed with her repeating Colt, she slipped out toward the campsite. It wasn't far. Her eyes scanned the layout of the campsite. A horse was hobbled in what grass was available. Gear was minimal, but a pack of furs, cased, and ready to trade took up the main bunk of the luggage. A figure reclined on the ground, his head resting on his saddle and wrapped in a light blanket. He was pretending to sleep, but alert to her every move.
"Sorry to intrude," said Sariah softly.
One brown eye popped open and a grin split the hairy face. "I'll be jingged. A woman. Now if you have whiskey, I know the Good Lord has answered my prayers."
"Sorry again, I'm a Mormon."
He rolled his eyes heavenward as he sat up. Sariah noted that he wore a leather shirt, greasy with years of wear without a wash. The sure sign of a single Mountain man. "God, yer tryin' to disappoint me to death. So, what do you want?" he asked
"I feel a Hvkee behind me and my friend. I have to admit, I'm a little spooked."
"A Hvkee? Oh, you mean a Haunt. I have to admit, I been feelin' somepin' along those lines myself. Got any salt?"
Sariah shook her head.
"Me neither. Well, signal yer friend. We can head out to Fort Laramie together. If it's a haunt, we can work it together. I got some good Juju my granny gave me."
Sariah whistled for Emily and Buddy. She knew there would be a delay, so she sized up their protection. He was over six feet tall, with crinkled brown hair, a deep tan and brown eyes. He badly needed a bath, something most Mountain men she had met had in common. She wondered what Emily's reaction would be and hid a smile at the thought. He wore a leather shirt and trousers. He reached under the blanket, and pulled out hard-soled, high-topped moccasins. He yanked then on and stood. He packed his things up neatly, and all the while, he was assessing her.
"What tribe are you?"
"Gulah. You ever heard of us?"
"Nope. Who are you?"
"We be Africans who got free. We live on the Sea Islands off the Carolina coast. That was my granny. She still speaks African. Now she married a Choctaw who was mostly White. And their boy, my daddy, he married a Creole. I'm a little of everybody."
Sariah nodded her head in agreement. She had though she was confused, but he had three races to somehow mold into a way of thinking that he could live with. She wondered what was taking Emily so long. Then she heard Buddy's distinctive walk. She smiled.
"Lordy, I forgot my manners. Name's Walter and don't you laugh, now, hear? My Granny, she liked to read, once she learned how, and she really liked Sir Walter Scott, so here I am, cuz she named me."
"I'm Sariah Porter," she said, and shook his huge hand.
She felt Emily behind her, turned and grinned. Even bedraggled and half-dead with lack of sleep, Sariah's heart leapt whenever she looked into those green eyes. Emily stood, holding the reins to Buddy. Her red hair was disheveled and her eyes had dark circles under them. She kept leaning to one side, then jerking upright. The poor thing was making every effort to stay awake.
"You been traveling all night?" asked Walter.
"Yes," said Sariah.
"She's dead on her feet. Here." And Walter took Emily by the hand and gently led her to where he had been sleeping. He helped her down, unpacked his blanket, and covered her like his own child.
"We'll let her sleep a bit, poor mite. You made her go all night because you were afraid of a haunt?"
Sariah knew with a certainty that there was a terrible danger behind them.
"I know we are in danger. I promised not to let any harm come to her. I can feel it so strong..."
Walter looked her straight in the eye. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am someone who knows a little bit about something."
"Yeah, I can feel it. This is stronger than you, ain't it?"
"Well, Chango likes me, and you got your medicine. What about the girl?"
"She's a strong Christian. She'll be okay if we all work together."
The tracks suddenly reappeared at the side of the trail. Sariah's went ahead, then the girl and the horse followed. Captain Porter stood, and spat tobacco juice into the prints. His crotch was itching like fury and he was madder than the very Devil. He climbed on his horse and rode the way the tracks went. He looked up just in time to see the smoke from the campfire. She might see him, he knew that, so he dismounted and left the horse to graze. He slipped up to a little rise, so he could look down on the camp. Sure enough there was Sariah, talking to a man, while her little friend slept. The man's back was to him, as he fingered the stock to his rifle.
When he turned, Captain Porter nearly shot him on sight. Sariah was traveling with a nigger! He had taught her better than that. If he as much as touched her, she would be worthless to any White man. Everyone knew that niggers had a special knack that made White women want them more than any White man. And the girl. What could he get for her if a nigger had her? He knew he would have problems after he had her, but that was at least acceptable to his men. She was full White--you could tell by looking. She was worth a piece of land, he figured. And the man who could tame Sariah, would probably give at least a team of horses. Even if she was a Breed.
Then the nigger looked right at where he was. Captain Porter flattened himself, but those brutish, brown eyes seemed to see him anyway. The nigger turned and talked to Sariah. Then they woke up the girl and packed up. This was going to be easy. Well, maybe. The nigger looked like he knew his way around. Captain Porter worked his way back to his horse and followed at a distance. They were headed right for Ft. Laramie. This was going to be easy. All he had to do was out wait them, and follow to where no people were around. Maybe he would get lucky and someone would catch the nigger at Ft. Laramie.
Ft Laramie was busy. There was a wagon train there and some Mountain men trading furs. Sariah and Emily stared at all the activity. The fort was like a small city, with many buildings, both inside and outside the fort. Walter went right inside to trade his furs. While he was in the process, Sariah and Emily made a list of supplies they needed. Sariah had a good memory for details, and Emily kept track of the provisions they needed. Unfortunately, the list was longer than what they could afford. Sariah wandered outside to see what was happening. Along the wall, people had put out blankets to trade on. They would set out trinkets, cloth, beads, moccasins and what have you and wait for anyone interested to offer something. Off in a corner, soldiers gambled on a game of Pull Up Sticks. Sariah grinned to herself. Her long legs took only a few strides to reach the gamblers.
"Hullo. How's it going?"
One young private, with a thin, blonde beard looked up at her. His grey eyes were trying to hide his interest. "Boring, actually," he said.
"That's true," offered a corporal whose uniform fit badly.
"I used to be okay at Pull Up Sticks," said Sariah.
The private smothered a guffaw. "Well, this is a man's game, not for some schoolyard full of sissies like I'm sure you played against."
"Tell you what, I'm willing to bet on it," said Sariah.
"Aw, keep your money. It's a sucker bet--and you're the sucker," said the corporal.
Sariah dug in her pouch and fished out a silver dollar. She causally tossed it on the ground. "Let's see about that," she said.
"Well, I won't be too hard on you. Get Roberts over here," said the corporal. A tall man with a limp came over, heard their description of the bet and laughed. He and Sariah got into position on the ground, with the stick between them. Each held their end of the stick, then tried to pull themselves upright by pushing against the stick with their feet. Sariah pretended to grunt and strain, but was hardly winded when she stood over Roberts. She reached down and helped him to his feet. Now it was easy. Men lined up to try to defeat her. She kept one eye on her growing pile of winnings, and the other on the increasing size and strength of her opponents. Just as she was about to face a really big man, she saw Emily walking towards her. Shock was plastered all over her face.
"Sariah! What are you doing? Are you gambling with our money? How could you?"
Sariah faked a crestfallen look, and waited for more chastisement from Emily.
"I just knew I couldn't turn my back on you for one minute. Give me the money. Now."
Sariah picked up the pile of coins and handed them to Emily, who looked as if steam was about to come out of her ears. Walter was watching is amazement, his eyes huge as the little New Englander scolded her friend. The two of them walked away from the gamblers, and turned around a corner. As Walter rounded it, expecting to find Emily boxing Sariah's ears, he found them hugging and giggling into each other's shoulders.
"If that don't beat all. You two ought to join a minstrel show."
There was the girl. She was a funny one, all puffed up with what was right and wrong, and drunk with ideas. And she was draped all over the one called Sariah like they were in love or something. Walter guessed this was some sort of thing White girls did. Sariah seemed to like it though, and was extra patient and protective with her.
Now that Sariah, she wasn't any little slip of a girl. She was a woman and it showed. She didn't seem to know she was as beautiful as a long, flowing waterfall after a hot and thirsty day. He liked the way she moved, and how economical her actions were. And that she knew her way around the land. He liked her silence--gave him a chance to talk. He hadn't talked to anyone but his horse for a month before they came into his camp. And he liked that she didn't see a Black man, or someone hopelessly mixed when she looked at him. She saw him, someplace way deep inside, that he had almost forgotten about. When she looked at him, he wanted to do better. A stray thought tried to insinuate itself inside his head. He firmly escorted it outside.
While those two bought their supplies, Walter spent the midday hours trading for some clean clothes. He bought a bath, and used the bar of Castile soap he had gotten with his fox fur. He felt different--all clean like that. Wearing his red calico shirt and cavalry trousers with the stripes torn off, he took his leather shirt and trousers to a Hangs-Around-The-Fort woman for a good cleaning. He traded for coffee. He knew better than to give her money. She was already showing the signs of the ravages of drink. Kinda made him glad Sariah was a Mormon. At least it kept her safe from Demon Rum.
He heard his Granny's voice in his head, lecturing him about how he was wasting his life with this bumming around and drinking and chasing after no-good women. He caught himself thinking of Sariah again. 'Look, dunder-head,' he told himself in no uncertain terms, 'She can pass. You'll just hold her back.' But he knew her heart wouldn't let her pass as White. He knew it the same way he knew she was a healer, or that there was a hurt place she hid from everyone but the little gal. He suddenly felt very protective of Sariah. It was then that he understood Emily's role. She was protecting Sariah, not the other way around. He'd have to have a little talk with that gal.
Walter got his chance that night. The men Sariah had defeated at Pull Up Sticks were surrounding her at the campfire, joking about her trick on them. Emily was sitting in a corner, darning a hole in her other skirt. He hesitated. She was wielding the needle a bit too much like a weapon for his taste. Emily had managed somehow to get a crate to sit on, so Walter found himself at her feet, like a knight approaching the throne. "Hello there."
"Hello Walter. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Had me a nice bath, and a change of clothes."
"I can see that." Her voice was strained, and her eyes like Wyoming jade.
"And I ain't had a drink the whole time we been here. See, I'm trying to be a better man. There's somepin' I'd like to talk to you about."
"And that would be..."
"I never met a woman like Sariah before. I know you really care what happens to her, and I want you to know--I would treat her right."
"You had better."
"So, you don't think I'm trying to get above my place?" asked Walter.
"What? No, that's not it. I can tell you are a good man. I'm just afraid for her. She's had some bad experiences in life. And the idea of you drinking scared me."
"That and I'm not a Mormon," said Walter.
"Oh, I think as long as you respect her beliefs . . . ."
"I do. And her. I don't want a woman who is afraid to be her own self. I think that if she wants to hunt and trap, and ride and shoot--why I'd rather have a woman like that around than one who just cooks and cleans and sews."
Then Walter looked down at Emily's hands--sewing, and gulped. Now he had done it. "Sorry, that's not what I meant."
"I know. I guess I'm not very exciting. I'm going to Salt Lake Valley to be married. Sariah promised to take me there. She didn't say much about after, except that she wants to help people who are going West." That's when a little of what was so special about Sariah sunk in. Walter watched Emily sew for a while. She knotted and bit off the end of the thread with her perfect teeth. He glanced over at Sariah, who was heading back that way. He was getting awfully warm. Her long legs just ate up the ground between them. Walter's mouth went all dry.
Sariah plopped herself down on the ground next to Emily and facing Walter. She grinned at him, and gave a beautiful smile to Emily. Someone started playing a mouth organ, and it was slow and sweet. Sariah let the player get a good bit of solo playing done, then joined in with a voice that made Walter's heart ache. Emily leaned her head on Sariah's shoulder. Walter wished he knew Sariah well enough to do that.
When Sariah finished singing, the man with the mouth organ switched to something lively. Walter had no head to remember the names of songs, but he found his toe tapping. A couple of soldiers started to dance with camp followers and women who looked like soldier's wives. Walter swallowed his fear. "Uh, Sariah, would you care to dance?"
She looked at him coolly, as if to see how serious he was. Then she smiled, and her face lit up. She jumped to her feet and he stood after her. It felt good to be moving, with her linking elbows with him. She was a good dancer, and she didn't wear out quickly like many women he had met. He noticed a soldier asking Emily, and being turned down. Instead, she sat there, guarding Sariah. At least he had passed a test of some sort by speaking to her first. He didn't feel her eyes boring into his head, even when he gave Sariah a big hug after their fifth dance.
He watched her go back to Emily, and sit between her and a soldier's wife who looked far worldlier wise than either of his friends. He leaned against the fence and kept an eye on her. The corporal Sariah had beaten at Pull Up Sticks joined him, lighting a pipe with a flint and steel, and bit of charcloth."She's really some kind of woman. Yours?"
"She's one gal I'd never claim to own, but I like her sure enough."
"Thinking of settling down?" asked the corporal.
"Thinking she might not want to either."
"Well, you're lucky she's a breed. The law let's you marry her." Walter ground his teeth, and tried to remember the corporal meant well. He looked back at Sariah and found her eyes on him. A good sign, he thought.
Sariah was sitting with her head on Emily's shoulder. Emily had one hand entwined in her hair and the other around her waist. A gentle calm filled her heart. Emily didn't mind that Walter was interested in Sariah. It might be a good solution to Sariah's loneliness--especially after Emily was married. Emily watched the dancers, and Mrs. Packer, who was fanning herself vigorously with her hat.
"What a night. It is so calm, and you can see every star up there," said Mrs. Packer. Emily looked up at the sky. She could see most of the summer constellations. The Milky Way spilled across the heavens splendidly.
"Yes, the good Lord certainly knew how to create beauty," said Emily.
"You know, I never get to dance. It's the price I pay being married to the only musician in camp," said Mrs. Packer. "I can imagine," said Emily politely, but her hand had wandered over to stroke Sariah's flushed cheek.
"Sariah, you're all hot. Are you feeling ill?"
Sariah sat up and looked into Emily's eyes. "I feel funny again, all light-headed, and warm, and my heart is racing," said Sariah.
"Do you feel that all the time, or just when you look at that handsome man you were dancing with?" asked Mrs. Packer.
"I feel it mostly around Walter."
"Why that's just love, Honey," said Mrs. Packer.
The words were still echoing in Sariah's head when she and Emily went to bed under the stars that night. Walter was a few yards away, softly snoring. Emily was wrapped up in the blanket with her. They were getting closer to Salt Lake Valley daily. She couldn't imagine how she could live without Emily at her side. But Walter . . . Sariah closed her eyes and slept.
They had traveled about three days, when they had their talk. Emily was sound asleep, and Sariah knew this discussion was coming. She pretended to be looking at the stars. Walter came up beside her, and slipped his arm around her waist. Her heart speeded up, and sure enough, she got all warm again.
"It's a beautiful night," said Sariah.
"Not as beautiful as you are," said Walter.
Sariah's mouth was dry again. Walter turned her to face him. "Sariah, do you find me to be a worthy man?"
Her answer as automatic and wholehearted. "Yes."
"Worthy of your hand in marriage?"
She looked into his eyes, and saw the hope written in them. "I have something to tell you," she said. Her gut hurt. He took a step back, as if he expected her to slap him. She swallowed, and continued before she ran out of courage. "I...I'm not a virgin," she said.
"We all make mistakes," he said.
Now she was angry. This wasn't her fault. She didn't do anything wrong. Why was she the one who was supposed to be ashamed? "Mine was living in the same house as my father."
Anger flared briefly in Walter's eyes, and then it was replaced by sadness. He took her gently in his arms and held her. She could feel the hardness of his muscles, and the pounding of his heart.
"I'm sorry. The same thing happened to my cousin. It's nothing you did, no matter what other people tell you."
His voice was so kind that the tears welled up before Sariah could stop them. He held her as she cried. The guilt for all those years seemed to dissolve and wash away in her tears. When she finally finished, he helped her wipe away the tears. Then he looked deep into her eyes. "You never answered. Will you marry me? After you take Emily to Salt Lake Valley, that is."
And he kissed her. She felt all warm, then lightheaded, and then she laughed.
"How about we meet at Fort Bridger in two months. Gives you time to get Emily settled and me to figure out how we are going to live. Course, we have to talk about that before we part. Oh Sariah, I'm so happy. I think my Granny would have loved you." They held each other for a long time, and then each went to their bedroll and went to sleep.
Sariah knew this was a dream. Things were all funny and the light was odd. She and Walter were married, and it was their wedding night. He was gentle and kind, but she was frightened. When he took his clothes off, she started to panic. She couldn't breathe. She was trying not to cry out, and kept pushing him away. Defending herself. Suddenly she felt Emily beside her. Sariah relaxed again and putting her arm over Emily, went back to sleep. When she woke up, Emily was sleeping beside her.
Continued in Part 3.