The smell of part-rotten vegetation hung in the air, mixed with the sweat, and in one case, urine, of men--soldiers--waiting. The swamp was always dark, even at noon. The leaves of the ancient trees above ate up the sun. The water was inky. They could hear a small splash. Indians? Sargent Porter's muscles froze. Then he caught the movement of an alligator swimming by. Then another sound--the whoosh of an arrow, and the 'thunk' as it landed in the man standing next to him. The man fell slowly into the water as Sargent Porter cried out....
"Injuns!" He turned, aiming his long rifle, and came face to face with a woman. She was wearing a brightly sewn patchwork skirt and top. Strands and strands of beads covered her neck. In her hands she held a rifle, aimed right at him. His hands shook as he squeezed the trigger just after she did hers. There was a dull smack as her rifle misfired, then an echoing bang as his slammed the musket ball into her belly. Blood erupted from her innards. She fell into the swamp. Another woman jumped him from behind. He could feel her sinewy arms pulling back on his neck. In one hand she held a wicked looking knife. He could feel it against his throat. He jabbed back with the butt of his rifle, and she let go of his neck. He skewered her with his bayonet, twisting with all his might.
He sat up, sweating, and panting in fear. He looked around wildly. No this was Wyoming and he was Captain Porter again. He was in control. He was tracking his renegade daughter and her friend . . . and that runaway slave. He winced as if he could still feel the Captain's hands tearing off his Sargent's stripes. The word, "Coward." echoed in his head. "I could take him," he said aloud. " I could take him if he was alone. I can take her, but not the two of them. Not without some men at my back." Afraid to go back to sleep, he spent the rest of the night cleaning his guns.
That morning dawned sweet and clear. Walter watched the sunrise off Red Buttes and the Platt River. It was a mighty pretty sight, but not as pretty as Sariah, sleeping, all tangled in a blanket with Emily. Her straight, dark hair was tumbling around her face and she looked completely at peace, something he wished she could do when she was awake.
She looked and acted tough, but she was like a glass flower inside. He wanted to be gentle with her. Emily, on the other hand, looked delicate outside, but was as tough as bull hide inside. He pitied the man who got on the wrong side of her. When they finally rose, he could tell Sariah had plenty going on inside her head. He decided to wait her out. She would do best doing her own thinking. Walter had seen that from the first. They went about preparing breakfast--flapjacks. That Emily was a deft hand with the cooking. He took Sariah aside when her eyes changed, and he could see that she was ready to talk. They sat on upended chunks of firewood, leaning toward each other.
"We split up here," said Walter.
"I know." Sariah looked at the ground, then at Walter. Her eyes pierced his heart.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"I'm a little afraid. I'll always be a little afraid. That's nothing you caused. You know that?"
"Yes, I know that. I'll do my dangest to help you not be afraid," said Walter.
She reached out and took his hand. It felt like being connected to all the women in the world. "I think I love you," she said.
It took all of Walter's self control not to tear up when she said that. Her voice was so small. "I do love you," he said. Somehow he found himself holding her in his arms. Somehow he kept from pitching forward off the makeshift chair he was sitting on. "If you still want to marry me, meet me at Fort Bridger in two months. I'll wait a week for you."
"I will," Sariah said and she grinned.
He held her, just feeling her breathe, and the pounding of her heart against his. He heard his Granny's voice in his head, admonishing him to treat her right.
Captain Porter almost shot him then and there, but he might have hit Sariah. He could wait it out. He watched as the Mountain man packed up and left. He ground his teeth as that runaway kissed his daughter. That did it. He knew what he had to do. He waited for them to get far enough apart, and then he followed the Mountain Man. He was extra quiet. He also knew that when a man had a woman on the brain that he couldn't think straight.
He wanted to put some distance between what he had to do, and Sariah. He didn't want her to be able to stop him. It was getting to be night. The dark covered his intentions like a navy blanket. The runaway was cooking meat. It smelled good to the man who was waiting in the shadows of the red buttes, eating jerky and drinking water. It seemed to take forever for the runaway to finish eating. Then he got on his knees and prayed. Captain Porter almost giggled at that. He'd need to pray soon enough.
He waited until he heard snoring. Using his army training, he slipped up to the runway. He had kinky hair and a beard. His skin was about the same shade as his old man's, but another color. So, there were the lips that dared to kiss his daughter. He eased the trigger back, then pulled. The man's eyes snapped open. The bullet slammed home into his head. His head whipped around, as a giant chunk of it splattered the ground. The report was still echoing when he holstered his gun and went to check on his handiwork.
He touched the body at the neck. No pulse. He looked at his chest, no breathing. But then again, not much brain left. He didn't bother to cover the evidence. He was only a Nigger. No one would care. Of course he'd have to beat it into Sariah's head that she couldn't let people like that touch her. That was for him, and for the White Man he chose for her. With proper incentive, she'd learn the way to think.
Captain Porter got on his horse and went back after his daughter. She had a lot to learn. He was ready to teach.
Sariah was a little sad when Walter left. Things were happening faster than she would have ever believed possible. They were not far from the Rocky Mountains--the spine of the earth. The wind was a constant companion, pushing at their backs, hurrying them along. The trouble was, Sariah didn't want to hurry. The two people she cared for most besides her uncle were getting farther away with each step closer to Salt Lake Valley. There was a little group of emigrants on their way there just ahead of them. But Sariah had no heart to be with others. Walter was gone, but she would see him again. She was going to lose Emily forever.
Emily must have guessed her feelings. She came up to Sariah and walked with her arm around her waist. How could Sariah go through life without her comforting touch? "Quit feeling sorry for yourself. If it wasn't for this trip West, you'd still be alone, without a best friend who loves you and a man willing to marry you in spite of everything." Sariah stopped walking and touched her lips to Emily's. "I love you," she said.
Emily smiled, but it was a sad little smile. "I know you do. I just wish . . . You know, if you were a man, Sariah . . . I'd marry you."
Sariah laughed. She just couldn't picture herself as a man. She didn't have it in her. She was utterly comfortable with her woman's body except when it came to her womanly duty. And she knew plenty of women who were just as uncomfortable with that as she was. Besides, she liked it when she was in her power. She could feel the power flowing with her at her Moon time, which was now. And while White women called it, "The Curse," and used bad language about it when they got out their rags, Sariah quietly used the supply of little sponges her grandfather had traded with the Seminoles for.
This was information she didn't share because it was sacred. She hadn't even shown Emily what she did. Emily was a wonderful woman, but she too had complained, and shown herself not quite ready to see a woman's Moon time as powerful. This was a sad thing for Sariah. She had hoped that Emily would be able to learn some of the most sacred things she had been taught about being a woman.
It wasn't long until Emily went back to the land of the White people. A place Sariah now understood she didn't belong. She liked the Mormons. Loved her uncle for saving her life and her poor, battered soul. She wanted to honor these people, but there was something missing inside them. It was as if someone had broken their hearts, and they wanted everyone to be broken hearted too. There was even something like that in the Book of Mormon. They called it humility. Sariah called it, "uprooted."
Sariah could walk on the land as part of it. So could Walter. That was why she was attracted to him. There was the potential in Emily. She could become one of the great spiritual ones--if she had more time away from her people. Suddenly Sariah had a question just fly out of her mouth. "Emily? Was there ever a time when your people were tribes, like us Indians have?"
"Yes. The tribes who invaded Rome. They were called Vandals, and Goths, and Huns. They rode down on the Romans, and swept them out of power forever. Those tribes opened the door for Christianity. And in Scotland and Ireland, there were the Clans."
"Like in my vision? I saw snakes, and was told I was Snake Clan on my mother's side," said Sariah.
"Well, judging from their family crests, they had the Severed Hand Clan, the Deer Clan, and the Nettle Leaf Clan, among others."
"No Snake clan? I guess that's because my Ma's family was English and I don't know what all."
"I don't know very much about the tribes in Europe. I wish I did. I learned that they were savage and cruel, but then, that's what they said about Indians, and I know that isn't true. I'm from English stock myself, but I know nothing about it. I wonder why? The church wants us to search out our ancestors. Maybe there is some special reason," said Emily.
"I wonder if they lived in harmony with their land. If they were friends with the plant tribe and the animal clans? I would like to think they were."
"So would I. I would be proud to have ancestors like our Omaha friends."
"Do you know any stories? My Ma used to try to tell me some, but Pa said it was a waste of time," said Sariah.
"Here's one I always loved: "Once upon a time, a poor widow and her son, Jack, lived in the woods. They were so poor that they hadn't anything to eat, except a milk cow. So the widow woman sent her boy, Jack, to market to sell the cow for food."
"That was foolish, she should have eaten the cow, or traded for seed or something like that," said Sariah.
"Well, if you think that was foolish, wait until you hear what Jack did. He was on his way to market, when he met an old man. The old man called him by name, even though they had never met, and offered to trade the cow for a handful of beans. The man said they were magic beans. Now wasn't that foolish?"
"No. The man was a spirit. He knew Jack's name. He offered to trade spiritual goods for material goods. Jack was wise." "Are you sure you never heard this story?" asked Emily.
"No. It's interesting, though. Real important."
"So when Jack got home, his mother was angry, and threw the beans out the window. They went to bed hungry. The next morning, when Jack looked out the window, there was a huge beanstalk growing up into the sky. So what do you think he did?"
"He climbed it into the Land Above," said Sariah. "Like the two good mice in our story."
"You have a story about two good mice climbing up a beanstalk?"
"No, they climbed a stalk of corn, or on drumbeats--depends on who tells the story. But story people are always climbing up into the Sky Land," said Sariah.
"So Jack climbed the beanstalk. And when he got to the top, there was the same old man who traded him the handful of beans for the cow. He had changed into a handsome young man, and told Jack how his father was killed by a wicked Giant. And that if Jack went to the Giant's house, he could reclaim all the giant had stolen from his father. But if he walked away, the giant would always have control over that which was rightfully his."
"A Giant, by cracky, this is getting good," said Sariah.
" So Jack went to the giant's house, and his wife found him, and she felt sorry for him, and hid him in a copper pot. Then the giant came home, and sniffed the air. He roared, 'Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make me bread.' But the giant's wife said he only smelled his dinner. She fed him, and he called for his sacks of gold. He fell asleep counting them, so Jack grabbed them and ran down the beanstalk to his mother. But they only lasted a little while."
"This is such a wise story. Do all White children learn this?"
"Most, I think."
"I like this better than the Bible," said Sariah.
Emily's eyebrows shot up in an expression of dismay. "But this is only an old children's story," she said.
"Tell me the rest," said Sariah.
"Okay. Jack went back up the beanstalk, and this time the giant had a hen that laid golden eggs. Jack stole it and went down the beanstalk again. He and his mother had plenty of food and all the material things they had ever wanted. But the old man came back, and told Jack to go up the beanstalk one more time."
"Yes, because so far he has only gotten material things. He needed to get something spiritual," said Sariah. Emily stopped, and stared at Sariah. "I never thought of that. I have heard this story my whole life, and I never thought . . . This is a wise story."
"So he went back up," said Sariah.
"This time the giant's wife wasn't there, so he hid in a new place, and the giant brought out a singing harp. The harp sang him to sleep, and when Jack took it, the harp cried out, 'Master, Master.' " The giant woke up, and seeing what was happening, he ran after Jack. Jack climbed back down the beanstalk, and called for an axe. The giant was just behind him, and Jack chopped for all he was worth, until the beanstalk was severed, and the giant fell to the ground and was dead. They lived happily ever after."
Sariah was stunned. Here was the core of the White people's spirituality, and they didn't even know it. That Bible was a waste of paper. This simple story told them more about spirituality than the whole Bible and Book of Mormon put together. "That is the best story I ever heard. He had to kill his fear before he could be happy with his family. I really like that."
By then, they had reached the Ferry. The church owned this, and charged all but the Saints for a crossing. Sariah knew the password, but wasn't feeling very Saintly, so she whispered it to Emily, who spoke it.
The Ferryman was a genial fellow with blonde hair damp from the constant closeness to water. He was dressed plainly, in a homespun shirt and old trousers with a neatly patched knee. His boots were covered with tar, so he would be less likely to slip on the deck of his ferry. After they got Buddy settled, and themselves, he began poling them across the North Platte River. "My name is Oliver. I keep messages for people sometimes. So, if you think you might have one, tell me your names. I have a memory that is near perfect. Once I hear something, or see it, I remember all the details."
"What a gift," said Emily.
"Or a curse," thought Sariah.
"I am wondering if there might be a message about my uncle. My name is Sariah Porter."
"Porter Rockwell survived his trial. He was jailed only a short while, and let go, but his reputation was ruined. I'm sorry. He wants you to stay here in the West, and to be happy--Miss Sass."
Sariah felt her face color at her uncle's most private nickname for her, but that way she knew the message was from him. "I have one to go back to him. Tell someone going back east, that I love him. I'm real sorry for his troubles, and I'm getting married in two months. He's a good man. I ain't changing my name, so he can find me."
" How will he know the message is from you?"
"Call him big britches."
Emily burst into laughter. Oliver carefully kept a straight face.
"I'll do that. Congratulations, by the way."
"I'm Emily Lamb, I don't suppose . . . "
"Yes. Richard Purdy looks forward to meeting you. He and his first wife are anxious to have you join their family and are praying that you have a safe trip. They don't know you well enough to have a code word."
"Thank you. I suppose I'll be there to give them the next message myself."
"I like giving out messages about happy events. It's the sad ones I have trouble with."
Sariah felt Emily's head on her shoulder. She caressed the flaming red hair. The closer they got to their goal, the more Sariah felt like running away. Then they unloaded the ferry and thanked Oliver, they decided to rest and go hunting. They hobbled Buddy at the river's edge with both food and water close by. They could see buffalo over the rise, so they unpacked their bows and arrows, and went looking for a calf. It would feed them for days.
The herd was enormous. Sariah and Emily carefully moved along the edges of the herd, looking for a calf that might volunteer to be their food. Sariah sent up a prayer, and got back a warning. She looked at Emily. The herd was placid looking enough. But that's how they always looked just before they bolted. If a stampede happened here, they would be crushed, and that would be the end.
They struggled toward a bit of high ground that was rocky. Not much grew there, so the buffalo ignored it. At the top, they stopped to catch their breath and plan their next move. That's when Sariah heard the unmistakable click of a rifle being cocked. She turned to see who was fool enough to fire in the middle of this herd, and looked right into the eyes of her father. Sariah's mouth muscles tensed and her mouth went dry. This was the last thing she had expected. "Only a fool would fire a rifle in a herd of buffalo," said Sariah.
"Maybe. And maybe I don't care. I came to get you back where you belong."
Sariah slowly raised her bow, with the arrow already nocked. She kept her eyes on her father, waiting to see if he would fire and send them all to their graves. When he did nothing, she pulled the bow back, facing him. Each had a weapon aimed at the other's heart.
"I'm right where I belong now," she said in as steady a voice as she could manage.
"You go where I tell you to. I'm your father. 'Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land the Lord hath given thee.'"
"You going to quote the scriptures at me again? What a convenient book you make of the Bible. You can make it say anything you want it to," said Sariah.
"You obviously need me to do your thinking. You don't seem able to do it yourself. I saw you kissing that Nigger. I taught you better than that."
"His name is Walter. I kissed him because I love him and I'm going to marry him."
Her father grinned in the most unpleasant way. His eyes narrowed into slits. His face was full of short little whiskers. "No, you aren't. The Bible says you can't marry him. 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.'"
"He's not anyone's daughter. And he's not from Canaan."
"Canaan means Africa. Everyone knows that. 'Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.' They are meant to be slaves. It says so in the Bible," said Captain Porter. The bow was beginning to strain Sariah's muscles. She had a bad taste in her mouth.
"That's nonsense. I will marry him and you can't stop me."
"I already did. I blew his head off."
Sariah didn't know why she hadn't expected this. It felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Walter was gone. The sweet, respectful man she had planned her future with, and probably the only one she could have . . . shot by the devil in front of her. She was tempted to let go of the bowstring. "Why?" asked Sariah.
"You are mine. I'm taking you back to Missouri, you and your friend. I'm going to beat some manners into you, show you how to please a man, and find you a proper husband. I might as well get something for my trouble."
"Leave her out of this."
"She's out here without a man's protection. She needs to learn some manners too. It will be like the daughters of Lot, the three of us. 'And they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him . . . ' I like wine."
Sariah expected to hear something out of Emily, but there wasn't a sound. She was tempted to look back at her, to see how she was, but knew that their lives and their freedom were in grave danger if she tried. Sariah had grown up hearing these mad ravings, but Emily would be shocked to the very core. Maybe she could try to reason with him. Sometimes it worked.
"Ma wouldn't like that. She wants you all to herself. I know she does."
"She pleaded with me not to go after you. Said you deserved your freedom. If she had known you'd go running after a nigger, she wouldn't have fought me. She shouldn't have tried that. It was wrong of her to talk back to me. She made me hit her. I told her not to make me do that. I said to let me be, but she kept right on talking. And she made me mad. She knew not to make me mad."
"Are you sorry now?" asked Sariah.
"I'm sorry she made me hit her. She shouldn't have done that."
"Maybe you should go back, and tell her."
Then her father got the most repulsive look on his face. Sariah shivered, knowing something was coming, but not knowing what.
"I can't. She's dead."
"How did she die?"
"It's her fault. She made me do it. She made me mad, and I had to beat her to keep her in line. So I kept hitting her, and she up and died."
Sariah felt the vomit trying to come up from her stomach. She swallowed hard. Her arm hurt from the strain on it, and she really, really wanted to let that arrow fly. She hated him, but she couldn't justify killing him. Maybe she could give herself up to him so that Emily could escape. Yes, she could do that. Emily would be horrified, but it was worth the sacrifice. "I really hate you for that," said Sariah.
"Watch it, young lady. If you get too sassy, I'll shoot."
"Then the buffalo will stampede. You'll die too."
"So what. I'm willing to take both of you with me. I'm not a coward. I'm a veteran of the Seminole War. I put up with Injuns jumping me from out of trees, and snakes and gators. They all were animals."
"You are an Indian."
He raised his fist, as if to take a swing at her, then changed the direction, leaving it hanging by his side. "No. I have Blue eyes. It makes me a Blue blood. Makes me better than people like that old fart who called himself my father. He claimed to be a Medicine Man. He claimed to be a warrior. Made all sorts of claims. But he was an old man that couldn't let go of the past. This land belongs to the Whites. Manifest Destiny. God gave it all to them--to us."
Sariah was almost ready to drop the bow and arrow as her arm screamed with pain. She was ready to make a deal so that Emily could go on to Salt Lake Valley. She still couldn't see Emily, but could feel her support.
"They called me a coward in Florida. I'm no coward. I lead my men in the Battle of Nauvoo. I ordered them to kill those Mormons."
"You killed my mother!"
Sariah heard a bow twang. Startled, she let go of the string. Her arrow was speeding towards her fathers' heart. It was not alone. The arrows landed, one--two, like a melon being opened. The sound was exactly the same. Her father fell back, and landed, flat on his back. Sariah watched him fall. She was numb.
Somehow, his rifle didn't go off. She suddenly realized that she was not the one who said he had killed her mother. The voice had a New England Accent. Sariah turned and looked at Emily. She was rooted to the ground, fire in her eye, and a bow in her hand.
Sariah's stomach really hurt now. She felt like a cow had kicked her. Emily didn't move. It was as if she had turned into a statue. Sariah's stomach lurched. The senses that had fled while facing her father returned, and the smell of the buffalo herd was overpowering. She could hear flies, and turned to see them gathered all over the blood on his chest. She turned back to Emily, whose face was so pale that the freckles stood out like periods on the printed page.
"He's dead, ain't he?"
"Yeah. I never thought I had it in me," said Emily.
"Neither did I," said Sariah. Sariah felt her mind almost tear in two as she thought about what had just happened. Emily had killed her father. She hated her father. She feared her father. He had made her life a living hell. He had killed Walter and her mother. If he had lived, he would have continued to kill and do worse, to anyone in his path. Emily had killed her father. The sweet, religious girl had taken a bow and arrow and snuffed out a human life. The worst part is, she didn't even look as if she was sorry. Sariah had to know what was going on inside her mind--to see into her heart. "Emily. How do you feel?"
Emily looked her straight in the eye. Her gaze was unnerving. "Justified. He wasn't my father. He had perfectly awful intentions toward us, and he was a killer. Don't tell me you'll miss him."
Sariah examined her own heart. No, she wouldn't miss him. In fact, she felt freer than ever before, except for the nagging feeling that something was off about this whole incident. "I don't miss him. But I think the law will just see a dead man and will want to know who killed him. Those two arrows sticking out of his chest have identifiably Omaha fletchings. We can't let our friends be accused for what we did."
Sariah walked over to her body, and irrationally afraid that he would come to life and grab her, she snapped the feathered ends off the arrows and put them in her pouch. Then she got out her Bowie knife went to a nearby grove of trees, and cut branches. Emily took them and covered the body. They said nothing to each other until they had gotten Buddy, and had walked along the trail for some time.
"Emily, talk to me. I need to know what you are thinking about all of this. Aren't you the least bit sorry?" asked Sariah.
"I feel fine about it. Sariah, he was evil. I know he was your father, but that can't be an excuse to let someone like that go on and on with the hatred they inspire. 'It is better that one man die, than a whole nation dwindle in unbelief.' Remember?"
"But you are not a whole nation."
"As a woman, who will have children, I think that in seven generations or so, my descendants would be as many as some of the nations of Europe. I am a nation. And in the war between men and women, I was doing my soldierly duty," said Emily.
Sariah looked again at this young woman who was so convinced that she was right. Emily was in her speech-giving mode. Her eyes were bright and her face flushed with righteous fervor. "What war between men and women?"
"Men love war. Women love the civilized arts. Men like to keep women under control so they can fight and kill off our children in war after war. We all know a war is coming. How many will die? A thousand? Two thousand? And all to prove that it is right to own another human being."
"There is something wrong with your argument. I can't figure it now, but I will," said Sariah.
Inside, Emily was miserable. She had killed Sariah's father. And the only reason was in revenge for taking her mother's life. She wanted to make it all noble, so that Sariah would stop hating her for it. She somehow figured that God wasn't really impressed with her arguments either. And how could she marry after taking a life? So here she was, on her way to meet the man she couldn't marry now, and the one she loved best had every reason to be totally disgusted with her. Emily imagined what her parents might have said to her. She saw her mother clearly in her mind's eye, right down to the gold, wire-framed glasses. The look in her faded blue eyes was one of sorrow.
"Tell her," Emily's mind pleaded. But her mouth wouldn't open and her tongue wouldn't move. Even her lips refused to form the words. They walked on in silence. Then Sariah started to talk.
"Until Uncle Orrin came and got me, everyday, I heard my father quoting the Bible to prove one crazy thing or another. And I listened. I knew he was wrong, but I was fascinated by what went on in his head--what made him different from the rest of the world. He basically saw a world where he wasn't in charge, so he wanted to fix it so he was. He thought that by becoming The White Man, he could control others, like the White Men he knew. They quoted Bible to prove that whatever they wanted was right. He learned to do it too."
Emily's heart thumped. She knew where Sariah was heading, and she was mentally frozen, like watching two Rams running together and butting heads. "Don't even try to defend yourself," she thought.
"So when I heard you quote a scripture to justify killing--him, I knew that territory pretty well. I just never expected that you would try something like this. Do you honestly believe that you are an entire Nation?" asked Sariah.
"I don't know," said Emily.
"Neither do I," said Sariah.
Emily was having a hard time breathing, and tears were filling her eyes. Her vision was blurred with them, but she was doing her best to keep them from falling. Sariah would think she was trying to manipulate her. And another fear kept pounding in her mind. "If they find his body, will I go to prison?" she asked.
Sariah stopped, looking into her very soul. Her face softened then. "No. I'll tell them I did it. He's ruined my life anyway. Why ruin yours?"
"No! You can't let him win. He's spent a lifetime trying to crush your soul. And you didn't give in to it. Don't do this for me. I'm not the good person you think I am. I killed him because I was angry. I guess I just needed to find a way to justify myself. Don't you dare confess to my crime."
And Sariah's eyes widened. Her face looked as if Emily had slapped her. "I contracted to get you to Salt Lake Valley safely. My father could have imprisoned or killed you. I failed you. I will take responsibility."
Inside, Emily felt herself panic. Her frantic words escaped before she could recall them. "Is that all I am to you, a job?"
"Look, we have to make tracks. I want to be far away from here by sunset, so let's go. We can talk about this later," said Sariah.
And Emily closed her mouth, and put one foot in front of the other until sunset. That sunset was blood red. Emily thought maybe God was reminding her. She gathered bits of wood, some as thick as her wrist, most thin and brittle.
Sariah had made their camp in a lonely spot with huge boulders and one huge pine tree. Emily used the flint and steel she had traded for at Ft. Laramie to start their cooking fire, although she wasn't all that hungry. She was not looking forward to their dinner conversation. Sariah arrived with a couple of Prairie Dogs for supper.
Emily cleaned and cooked them, remembering Josiah. 'How dare she get all self-righteous,' she thought. 'Sariah killed four men that day.' Her cooking was accompanied by plenty of kitchen percussion, as Emily slammed lids, slapped dough, and cut vegetables like a madwoman. Sariah went off to pray, with her prayer bundle in her hand. Emily felt a huge wall had been built between her and God. She wanted to get through, especially since she really needed him just now. She also felt as if the stones were loose, and threatening to crush her.
By the time Sariah came back, both women were calmer. They sat, on opposite sides of the campfire, eating silently. Emily broke the silence. "I remember the first time I ever had Prairie Dog. That time you and Josiah went hunting for them."
There was a very long silence, and then Sariah put down the fry bread she had been eating. "Emily. Do you feel anything about killing my father?"
Emily remembered how Sariah had to fight off the guilt for killing the Grays who had killed Josiah. She searched her soul. No, she didn't feel guilty. Not about killing such an evil man. She felt sad, and deserted, and, she had to admit this to herself, her own self-righteousness. "Sariah, I don't feel good, but I also don't feel guilty. He was evil. He deserved to die. What would you have done?"
"I would have offered to go back with him so that you would be safe."
"What if he had insisted on taking both of us?" asked Emily.
"Then I would have killed him"
"I do not understand you. You would kill to protect me but not yourself?"
"That about sums it up," said Sariah.
"Don't I have a right, then, to kill to protect you? Other than a misplaced sense of loyalty, what on earth did you need your father to live for?"
"He was a great teacher."
Emily's jaw dropped so hard, her mouth hurt. She was tempted to rub her ears. "He what?"
"He taught me how not to be. He showed me all the things not to be caught up in."
"Sariah, he was the most miserable excuse for a human being I have ever met," said Emily.
"We are at an impasse here. We can't agree. Let's just move on. We are weeks from Salt Lake Valley. Let's just get me there, okay?"
Sariah's face muscles worked, there was emotion behind a mask, but Emily could see inside. Sariah had closed herself off to Emily. That hurt more than anything. They went to sleep on opposite sides of the campfire too. It was amazing how hard it was to sleep apart.
Emily felt herself falling backward, and then opened her eyes to a dark and loathsome place, where fires burned and smoke filled the air. She was looking around for Jonathan Edward's spider when she noticed men--White men, all running up ladders to get to the top. They slashed at each other with swords to get there, and blood poured from their cuts, and ran down onto the upturned faces of women and children, Indians, Negroes, and Chinese. They were the ladders these men were climbing. The landscape was filled with them.
Sometimes the men at top were turbaned Indians and those below were the people of Bombay--Untouchables and so forth. Sometimes the ones climbing the ladder were women, in their Sunday best, while the faces were of servants and factory workers. A carriage pounded into view, only instead of being pulled by horses, they were being pulled by humans. Emily felt herself getting sick. She looked for a way out.
There was a fold in the hills where the air seemed to be cleaner. Emily ran to it and when she looked down into the valley, she heard singing, and saw people gathered into a circle, sharing food, conversation and singing. There was no one outside the circle except for Emily. They stopped singing, and beckoned to her, smiling. Emily was frozen to the spot.
Then Emily felt Sariah get into the bedroll with her. She snuggled close, wrapping herself around her friend. It felt right now. Emily watched her dream self join the circle.
The next morning, Emily woke to find Sariah gone. She scanned the campsite in fear, until she saw Buddy nearby. She went to the horse, and stroked her, happy to see her. She also wondered where Sariah was. It was then that she saw Sariah come from behind a boulder, with a buffalo calf on her back. She was struggling with the weight. Emily ran to help her. The animal's dead weight hurt her arms, but nothing could keep her from helping her beloved friend this morning. They skinned and butchered the animal. Emily could see the literal blood on her hands. It was too strong an image, and Emily caught herself speaking as Lady Macbeth. "Out, out, damned spot."
"What?" asked Sariah.
"Oh it's a line from a play, about a woman who gets her husband to murder so he can be king."
"He's the villain, I hope."
"She is, mainly. She gets him to do it. She is driven mad by dreams. I had a dream last night."
"I know. You were thrashing around. I came to hold you, like you did when I was having a bad one."
"Thank you. I needed you," said Emily.
Sariah cut one of the haunches off and laid in on the skin, then wiped her face with her hand, leaving a trail of blood on her face. "Tell me your dream," she said.
So Emily recounted the dream. Sariah frowned at the people climbing the ladders, and the carriage made her wince. But when Emily got to the circle of people on the hillside, Sariah's face broke into a grin.
"I like this dream, Emily. The people using others as a ladder, they want power over people. They all want to get on the top, and make everyone else below them. The people in the circle, they understand that if everyone is in the circle, they are all equal, and everyone has power." It was then that the fog in Emily's brain lifted. She could see clearly what the dream was saying to her--personally. She knew the vision was from God.
"I understand now about your father and me. I needed to stop him, because he was damaging so many in his rush to the top of his ladder. You were one of his steps, and I was supposed to be. I was meant to stop him. But I killed him, which wasn't really necessary. And I did it for the wrong reason, which made me part of that same thing. I made him pull my carriage full of anger that my parents are dead," said Emily.
"You were wrong, but I think I need to thank you for setting me free," said Sariah. And Sariah pulled Emily close. Their breaths mingled. Emily felt dizzy, then their lips met, and instead of moving apart quickly, they lingered. Emily's heart was beating so hard she was afraid it would come out of her chest. She could taste Sariah. And the smears of blood on their hands felt warm and slick as they touched each other's faces.
They parted, and Sariah smiled. "Well, it looks like we have a lot of spots to, 'out, out.'" she said.
After the major butchering was accomplished, Emily cut the vast majority of the meat into thin strips to be dried into jerky. Sariah cut thin sticks and constructed a drying frame. After they finished laying the meat out on the rack, they stopped long enough to go outside the camp, and wash the blood off with water from a canteen. Then, because they could see each other's faces, they each cleaned the blood off the other's face. For some perverse reason, Emily was reminded of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry baptizing each other. She felt cleansed of her sins afterwards. They ended the ritual with a particularly sweet kiss.
Emily was hungry, so she cut some meat into cubes and started a stew. They hung up what was left of the meat to stay cool, and started to process the buffalo hide. Sariah used her hatchet to open his skull while Emily cut away any large chunks of meat still clinging to the skin. As Sariah extracted the brain and mashed it, Emily made an incline out of a log that was on the ground along with several stones. She propped one end against a boulder that was about waist high on Sariah. Then, the two of them scraped the hide. Emily's arms screamed with the ache that filled them after what felt like a half-day's work. She noticed the sun hadn't moved much in the sky.
At last the hide was done to Sariah's satisfaction, and the stew to Emily's. So they mashed the brain and worked it into every inch of the hide and rolled it up--then cleaned up and ate a very well earned meal. Usually, after dinner, they would talk or sing. Tonight they sat together, holding hands and exchanging kisses. At bedtime, they said their prayers, snuggled into each other's arms and kissed some more until they fell asleep.
It was still dark when Emily heard the noise. Sariah was already up, and had her rifle trained on the moving, grunting, black blob. It sounded like a bear. Emily froze. She had heard tales of the giant bears of the Rocky Mountains-- monsters that knocked down trees and ate folks. Her stomach tightened. Sariah was out there facing this beast. She wished she could see better, but they had banked their fire, and it was a moonless night. She decided the best help she could give Sariah would be to stay right where she was.
The snuffling and thumping was giving her the willies though. Finally, a shot rang out and the blob stopped moving. Emily waited. She could hear Sariah moving.
"Is it dead?" called Emily.
There was a little more noise, like Sariah was turning the bear over. The bear was silent as Emily prayed.
"Yep," said Sariah. "I just love bear grease."
They spent a long while making a torch, tying the bear carcass and hanging it, along with the buffalo hide, in the tree.
"Best not to encourage other varmints," said Sariah.
They cleaned up once again and fell back asleep in each other's arms. The next morning was spent processing the bear meat, grease, and hide. Some of it was like bacon, some like pork. The grease was sweet as country butter. Emily liked it better. They stayed at their camp a few more days, until all their meat was dried and their hides worked. When they broke camp, Emily hoped they would find water soon. They were low due to all the butchering and clean-ups.
They had gone on about half a day when there was a sudden change in the landscape. Emily had grown up near the Berkshires and had crossed the Adirondacks with her family, but nothing was quite like the Rocky Mountains. They rose up so steeply that it took Emily's breath away. They were all covered with pine trees and huge rocks were sticking out of them. She figured that this was where their name came from. At the base of the trail, ran a little stream, gurgling merrily. It was enough to fill all their canteens. They also used it to wash off the trail dust, stickiness and general uncleanliness of the last few days. Then Sariah spotted the wild rose beds. She gave a little jump and actually clapped her hands together. She ran to the pack and opened it, taking out two canvass bags and tossing one to Emily.
"Rose hips! Hurrah. I love them, and they are good for you. They prevent the scurvy, even cure it."
Sariah actually dove into the thorny bushes, picking the bright red berries. Emily took her time. Having never eaten rose hips, Emily was far more cautious of being scratched. She picked steadily, filling her canvas bag slowly, while her more enthusiastic companion filled her mouth and the bag. Sariah paused occasionally to spit out the cores. She fairly danced as she picked.
Sariah was a mess. Her hands were scratched, her hair was filled with debris from the bushes, but her eyes danced and she wouldn't stop kissing Emily. Not that Emily really wanted her to. The closer to Salt Lake Valley, the more affectionate they both became. Finally they settled down, packed up and started the climb to the South Pass--The Cumberland Gap of the West. It was a long, slow climb. It was lucky they were both so healthy and well fed. It was a difficult climb, and it was growing steadily colder.
Emily's shivering was beginning to distract her from everything else, when Sariah stopped, opened the pack and got out the buffalo skin. She draped it around Emily like a shawl. She stopped shivering immediately. Then Sariah placed the bearskin around her own shoulders, tying the legs over one shoulder like a dashing Gypsy cape. Emily did the same with hers. Now she was warm and cozy. The advantage was that she could also move quickly. Now there was snow on the ground. Sariah frowned.
"This is not good for Buddy. We may have to be extra careful for her sake. She could slip and fall." said Sariah. Emily could swear that Buddy understood, for she looked at Sariah as if to say, "Must I do this?"
Sariah patted her nose and rubbed it affectionately. They walked on. Emily was beginning to grow quite winded. They rounded a bend and came across a sight that made her blood freeze. There was a group of men, women, children, and wagons stuck in the snow. There was only one dismal fire, and the people, one and all, looked haggard and sick. Sariah stopped in her tracks.
"Emily, stay back until I find out what it is. I don't want you catching anything."
So Emily stood in the snow, watching her beloved friend walk into the camp as if nothing could harm her.
The sun was shining down through the pine trees, but the wind was chilly. Sariah noticed the snow was packing under her feet. This was good. Likely they would have to make a large shelter, and a snow shelter would suit the situation well.
As she approached, she noted the wagons stuck in the snow, and the wan faces of the White people peeking out at her without curiosity in their eyes. She figured that these were the people she had seen ahead of her and Emily. They hadn't been here long, so something other than the snowstorm must be wrong. Typhoid Fever, Diphtheria, Cholera . . . her mind catalogued the diseases that could be in this camp. All were deadly. But she was a healer, and she couldn't walk away when they needed her help.
She could hear the fire crackle. No one was tending it. She walked up to the back of a Conestoga and met the gaze of a thin man with sunken eyes. His eyes were dull and his mouth appeared to be swollen, but he was breathing normally.
"Hullo. Can I help you?", she asked.
Tears sprang to his eyes. "Thank the Good Lord," he said. "We are dying."
"How many are dead?"
"Only one. But we are close to it."
"Let me look at you," said Sariah.
The man allowed Sariah to climb up into his wagon. Inside, twelve people were packed, which included five children. Sariah checked the man for fever. His skin was rough and dry. His breath was foul. No fever was present. She opened his mouth and saw that his gums were sore and bleeding. She mentally went through her checklist of symptoms. She checked his lungs. No wheezing, no cough. His muscles were weak and flaccid. His legs were straight. All of the adults had the same symptoms, and the children also had bowed legs and swollen bellies.
"How long since you ate anything?"
"Two days. We are too weak to hunt or cook."
Two days. That wasn't enough to account for these signs of malnourishment and scurvy. Sariah gave a silent prayer of thanks to the creator for all the rose hips and meat in their pack. Still, she wondered what was going on here. She was just about to offer the food when her hand touched something hard, like glass. It was a bottle. She held it up and read the label.
"Doctor King's Elixir, a health-giving potion from the Creek Indians, formulated by Chief Red Hawk himself."
"They can't mean . . .," she thought.
Then she heard someone approaching with a firm step. Someone was healthier than most around here. A man's red face appeared looking in the Conestoga.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"My name is Sariah Porter. I'm a healer."
"We don't need any quack doctors around here. We have medicine. It's food we need."
There was something familiar about this man. Sariah searched her mind. Something to do with her grandfather. A business offer. That was it. "Emmanuel Knight? Is that you?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," he said in a way that proved he did.
"You tried to buy my grandfather's herbal formulas. In Missouri, at Creek Town. He turned you down."
"My name is Almonzo King; Doctor, Almonzo King. My followers and I are going to Nevada to live in the desert, as it is the most healthy climate for those who tend to be sickly. I have never seen you before in my life."
Sariah shrugged. The man was of no importance. She turned to the people in the wagon.
"I have food and something that will cure the scurvy you have."
"Thank you," said the man, and he smiled.
"They don't need any cure but my elixir!" said Knight--King, whatever he was calling himself.
Sariah uncorked the bottle and sniffed it. The alcohol content almost knocked her over. It must have been 90 proof. She sniffed again. There was the smell of licorice, horsemint, and something she recognized as very bad for folks. She sniffed again to be sure. Opium. She still held the bottle as she placed her hand outside the wagon. She turned the bottle upside down and emptied in on the ground. The splash was drowned out by the bellow from, "Doctor King."
"How dare you!"
"This is ninety percent rotgut and the rest is flavorings and opium. It is pure poison. Best to let Mother Earth take it into her bosom and clean it up."
Sariah wondered if he would jump her. She was ready, but he backed down, sputtering. She ignored him and got out of the wagon. She went toward Emily, who met her halfway. Buddy followed her lead docilely. She smiled at how well the two were getting along.
An hour later, Sariah and Emily were cooking meat and potatoes in plenty of melted snow. The rose hips were steeping, and as they did, Sariah took fallen timbers and made the inner structure of a shelter large enough for all the camp. Then she and Emily packed snow to make strong walls and a roof. That way they had their own place here, one not owned by any of the stranded wagon train.
They started by bringing hot soup and rose hip tea to each wagon. The tea went quickly, as the deprived bodies took it in as a drowning man takes in air. They just made more. And, as they settled into their shelter for the night, on beds of sweet-smelling pine boughs, Sariah pulled Emily close and held her, knowing what she had to do next.
"Emily. I have to go to Ft. Bridger and bring back help for these folks. We can't get these wagons free by ourselves. And we can't just leave them here. They are too sick to care for themselves. I sure hate to ask you this, but . . . "
"I'll stay and take care of them," said Emily.
"I know you can do it. I'll give you some herbs and things to help. The next few days are going to be rough, and that Doctor fellow is going to be trouble."
"I know. I'll do it because these people need all the help they can get. But, Sariah, I'm going to pray like everything depends on the Lord, and work like everything depends on me," said Emily.
"Good plan. You pray well. Remember when you prayed for water?"
And they held each other close, laughing at the memory.
The next morning dawned clear and cold. Sariah could hear every step she made on the snow. It was a good thing they had made the shelter yesterday, while the snow was soft and wet. She gave Emily lengthy instructions on patient care, the uses of various herbs and tinctures and personal safety. When she finally finished, she held Emily close and they kissed for several minutes.
"Now we have to let them know who is in charge," said Sariah. She took Emily by the hand and headed for the wagon she knew instinctively belonged to "Doctor" King. It was the best one in the camp. When the approached the back of the wagon, Sariah reached up and shook the flap.
"Doctor" King peered out, and he glared when he saw them. "Go away."
"Nope. We have to talk."
"I need my rest. I'll get you when I'm ready."
Then a beautifully modulated woman's voice sounded behind him. "Bring them to me. I am ready to see them."
His head disappeared inside the wagon. There was the scurry of preparation and the flap was lifted. Sariah let Emily climb into the wagon first, then followed.
The inside of the wagon was as nice as Sariah was afraid it might be. There was a comfortable rug to sit or sleep on, soft beds, and neat, built-in shelves for their goods. Fastened to the side of the shelves were posters, in bright, circus colors for a Show called, "Macbeth" Starring someone named Julia Kingston. Wasn't that the one Emily had told her about?
In the center of the room, as if taking the honored place of the story teller, was an older woman with dark brown hair and green eyes, sorta like a combination of her and Emily. She was wearing some kind of robe in a good red. The material was shiny like nothing Sariah had ever seen. The woman was clearly in charge here.
Emily's eyes were round and open in amazement. She looked at the woman as if she was somebody important. Sariah shrugged. Some people had the ability to seem what they were not. They sat and waited for the woman to talk.
"My name is Julia King. You know my husband. I am grateful to you for arriving at such a fortuitous time. Your food is most welcome."
"You're right welcome, Ma'am," said Sariah, playing her part.
"And your names?"
"I'm Sariah Porter and this here is Emily Lamb."
"Goodness, you two aren't crossing the prairie all by yourselves, are you?" asked Julia.
"We ain't done crossing yet, ma'am," said Sariah. "We talked, and I'm going to Fort Bridger to get you some help."
"That's very kind of you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
"I'm leaving Emily in charge."
"Hey, wait just a minute--I'm in charge. Who said you were taking over?" said King.
"Fact is, she knows more about what you need just now."
"She can cook for us. We need that."
Julia laid a restraining hand over his arm. "Now dear, they are offering to share their food, and leaving Emily behind to feed us. Isn't that nice?"
"I gave her the herbs and things your people will be needing too."
"I'm afraid we cannot permit that. Your ignorant ways could hurt them. We are experts, having gotten herbal remedies from not just one, but several Indian Medicine men," said Julia.
"My grandfather didn't give you that formula," said Sariah
"Perhaps there was a tiny little mistake there, but we also have one from the Chief of the Omaha Tribe."
Sariah looked at Emily's face to see her reaction. Sure enough, Emily's jaw was clenched and her eyebrow was raised in warning. Sariah could hardly wait for this one. Julia took out another bottle. This one was a blue glass filled with a light brown liquid. Julia turned the label for them to see. There was a lurid drawing of a Plains Warrior with some sort of headdress Sariah had never seen before. The Label said,
Doctor King's Tonic.
Good for the Dropsy, Gout, Rheumatic fever, the night chills, women's complaints and baldness. (From the original formula by Chief Tatongamonthe of the Omahas.)
Emily looked at it as if it was a snake.
"What? Why on earth is my adopted father on this bottle. He is not a healer and has never claimed to be. Sariah. What's in this?" Emily's voice was getting shrill.
Sariah uncorked the bottle and sniffed. There was only a little less alcohol, and then the smell of Horse mint, Blue Cohosh, Pennyroyal and Laudanum. Sariah made a face.
"That will kill any babies trying to grow. Do you tell women that's what it does?"
"Cravat Emptor, said King, "Let the buyer beware."
"Sir, you are completely dishonest," said Sariah.
"Thank you," said King, and he gave a little bow.
Sariah could tell that Emily was ready to punch him. She stood to leave, gently reminding Emily with a touch, that they had better things to do. They excused themselves and left.
Sariah was packed up, and ready to go. She had Buddy with her, and made a long good-bye with Emily. There was just one more lingering kiss, then Sariah set off alone.
Emily knew that if she didn't get busy, her soul would follow Sariah to Fort Bridger. Her heart already had. She searched her things for the one item she had most wanted at Fort Laramie, her Bowie knife. She found it with her kitchen goods. Just the thing to cut tree boughs.
She located the rawhide Sariah had made and tied twine securely to two of the legs. This would be her sled. She walked to the small Blue Spruce Sariah had shown her. Under it, there were a lot of little rocks. Emily had an idea then, and she found a forked stick to use for digging in the hard snow. After the crust was cut away with her knife, she found the snow underneath to be soft and dry. It was easy to get down to the surface.
Sure enough, then were handfuls of pebbles, just the size she and Johnny used for target practice as children. She scooped up several handfuls, and then turned to the job of cutting the spruce boughs. Her hands were smeared with sap, and sticky, but she had a mound of boughs on her sled, covering the rocks from prying eyes. She pulled her sled back to the snow shelter, pleased with how easy it was to pull.
She pitched their lean-to inside, for privacy, and transferred the rocks to a hidden corner. Then she started a cooking fire at the communal fire pit, cut the spruce into bits, and steeped it for tea. A hearty gruel followed, with a bit of salt pork for flavor.
As the fragrance reached the wagons, people came out to eat. Emily's mind went back over her plan. She had noticed several New England accents in the group, and she knew her own people well. She cleared her throat and addressed the group.
"I'm glad to see you. I'm happy to offer charity to you in your time of need."
Their faces closed. Their jaws clenched. One or two turned away.
"Oh, I don't mean to offend you. If you'd like, we can arrange for you to pay for the food."
One man, with a red nose, and watery eyes spoke up then. "Pay? Yes. I would prefer that. I don't have much money, and I'm too weak to work much. How do you want to be paid?"
"Bring me all the various elixirs, tonics and whatever else you have like that, and I will feed you until Sariah gets back."
"No. Don't you see it's a trick? She wants to take your live-giving medicines away. She and that quack are in league to ply you with roots and toadstools until you are sick like you were when you first came to me," said King.
"Do you feel better, or worse, since we came?" said Emily.
"Better," answered a woman with a face almost as white as the snow on the ground
"I'll do it," said the man with the red nose. And he went back to his wagon. He came back with two bottles of tonic. When he handed them to Emily, she curtsied to him. The people laughed, and ran off to get their bottles. It was then that Julia made her entrance.
"Oh dear. What is this? I see that Emily has been kind enough to serve us our meals, but why on earth would you part with your medicines?"
"We don't take charity," explained the white-faced woman.
"Ah, but if no one took charity, how could people live up to that part of the bible which says, 'and though I bestow all my goods to the poor to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing' I saw we must let her show this charity to us by graciously accepting her gifts. It is for the good of her soul."
Emily came close to applauding. The woman was magnificent--and sneaky.
"'God helps those who help themselves,'" said Emily.
New England culture was too strong. The people lined up with bowls, and traded their patent medicines for food. Julia and King were not among them. Emily knew they had many more bottles in their wagon, but she also knew that they would not give them away. She hoped. If they did, she was in real trouble.
When the last of the people were fed, and had been given spruce tea, Emily cleaned up her makeshift kitchen and went back to her own shelter. She took the rocks, stuffing her pouch with them. Then she loaded her sled with the bottles, and took them out of sight of the camp.
She lined them up on a boulder and took out the first of the rocks. She aimed, and fired. She had always been a good shot, but she was a hair off. The rock whizzed harmlessly by. She took up the next rock, concentrating of its weight and heft. Then she threw it. There was a satisfying smack, then the bottle shattered, and the evil contents ran into the snow.
She tossed rocks until her arm ached, but there were still a few more. Her anger had not been burned away quite yet, so Emily finished the job. She left the mess as a testament to her own determination, and a veiled threat to King. Julia was a more formidable foe. She would not be fazed at all.
Emily was still more energetic than she could comfortably control. She went back to her things and got out her bow and arrows. She shuddered as she relived her arrow piercing the heart of Captain Porter. Then she turned, and went hunting. She liked to look for paw prints in the snow. She could see a mouse running, and the little line that was its tail. The run ended in the impact of feathers that was an owl having its dinner.
Then she saw the rabbit. It was hopping along, and then froze when it knew she was near. She could barely see its outline--white against white on the snow. She aimed, drew back, adjusted her aim, and let an arrow fly. It caught the rabbit cleanly. A red stain appeared on the fur, then the snow. Emily picked it up by the ears and went into camp.
She nearly dropped the rabbit when she saw the state of her camp. Items were strewn all over the place, as if a bear had been exploring. But no bear could open the intricate latches on the food cabinet. Emily knelt and opened Sariah's big par fleche. She found a stick and after opening it, pushed down on the handkerchief that was laid on top. Nothing happened. She pulled the handkerchief aside and saw that the beaver trap Sariah had put on top of her herbs and medicines was sprung. It's steel jaws were clamped firmly together. She knew someone had been into the precious medicines.
Emily looked under the trap. The medicines had not been disturbed. She gave a sigh of relief, and then set her mind to solving the problem of how the trap was sprung without damaging the handkerchief. Then she picked up the white square piece of linen. This was daintier than anything Sariah would have used. Therefore the trap had damaged the original.
Emily sniffed it. It was scented with rosewater. She had a pretty fair idea who it belonged to. There was no blood, so she was certain the thief's whole hand had not been caught. And the trap was still sprung, so they must have jerked their hand away before it completely closed. Emily located another Number 3 steel trap, and set up two of them, covering them with a loose layer of newspaper. She put the handkerchief into her pocket. Then she went about her business.
That night, at supper, she again fed the whole camp, and handed out the spruce tea. King and Julia showed up, and Emily noticed that the actress had a bandage on her right hand. She walked up to Julia, and handed her the handkerchief.
"I believe this is yours," said Emily.
Julia gave a small curtsey as she took it.
"Thank you. I have wondered where that had wandered off to."
"I would prefer it not go wandering again," said Emily.
"Oh, rest assured, this handkerchief will stay at home. I hope you have plenty of fortitude, dear. Have you ever seen someone in withdrawal from drink and opium? It is not a pretty sight. And I suspect it is not something a mere slip of a girl could handle--all alone as you are."
The silence was beautiful. The crunches of the snow beneath Sariah and Buddy's steps were the loudest thing on the path. Sariah knew it would be at least a week down to Fort Bridger, maybe more. If she had not been responsible for so many, she might have avoided this journey. Every step took her closer to Fort Bridger, the place she was to meet Walter to be married.
He was a rare man. One who naturally respected women, and actually seemed to like them. If she had married him, he would have let her be herself, not some kitchen drudge or baby factory. Sariah winced. This was what Emily was likely to wind up. She hated to see someone so strong and intelligent swallowed up into this . . . she paused, she didn't have the word. All she knew is that it was artificial, and was glued over the top of real, natural relationships, like the thin slices of expensive wood people put over cheap pine.
"Veneer," she said to herself.
Her voice sounded funny to her, but it beat the chatter in her head. She tried to turn it off, the way her grandfather taught her. She emptied her mind of all her concerns and worries. She imagined a sound that drowned out all the others, then--blessed silence.
An icicle fell, like a dagger, into the snow. Buddy snorted. Sariah gave up.
"I would have been happy. But no, Pa had to go and shoot him. Why, Buddy, why did he spend his whole life trying to ruin mine?"
Buddy looked at her so sympathetically, that her throat tightened, and her chest hurt. Next thing she knew, tears were blinding her, running down her face.
"I don't want to hate him. I have tried my whole life to forgive him. I can't. There is something in me that can't just say, ' I forgive you.' And I hate to say it, but I'm really glad he's dead."
Buddy nuzzled her shoulder. Sariah gave her a hug, and wiped the tears away with her sleeve before they could freeze. Her hands were freezing cold, so she opened her saddlebags and found the fur mittens she had made years ago. She slipped them on and her hands were instantly warmer. It was going to be a long journey. Ah, that was it; she would journey on this when she camped for the night.
She picked her way down the mountain path, sometimes slipping in the snow. She was always careful with Buddy, so that the horse was protected. She loved this animal. Buddy had been the first friend she felt comfortable confiding in.
Her mind wandered back to the last time she had walked this trail, following her uncle and his friends. She had always had to hurry to catch up. And they had all treated her like a child. Now that she thought about it, she figured it had been their way of protecting her from other men. She wondered what her uncle would have thought of Walter and decided he would have liked the Mountain man. They had a lot in common.
Suddenly, Sariah realized that she was hungry. That meant that Buddy was probably also hungry. Sariah stopped, started a fire, and melted some snow. She made a bit of it into herb tea for herself, and gave a grateful Buddy the rest. Then she chopped dried corn stalks for Buddy to eat, and had some parched corn and pemmican for herself. It wasn't the best, but they could survive on it. She was missing Emily's cooking already. After a rest, she picked up Buddy's reins and started walking again. Seven days to the fort, and likely eight days back.
That night, Sariah made a quick shelter of some pine boughs, made a fire to warm herself and Buddy, and caught a squirrel for supper. She made sure to have some spruce tea, and once more gave Buddy some dried corn stalks.
"Sorry, girl. You'll have better when we get off this mountain. I promise. And I'll get you a treat at Fort Bridger." Sariah patted the animal's flank, and then set to the business of making new char cloths for fire starting. She got out some linen rags, cut them into small rectangles, put them in her old coffee can with a nail hole punched in the side and set it in the fire. It smoked without flaming, so she knew it was not burning. Burned char was worthless in starting fires. She smiled to herself as she realized that you couldn't start a fire without fire, just as you couldn't pump water without water. She shook her head as the senselessness of modern life and was glad she was in the wilderness, where things didn't go in circles like a dog chasing its own tail.
When she finished and had everything settled for the night, Sariah laid down on her bed of pine boughs under her bedroll, closed her eyes against the wave of need for Emily beside her, and tried to relax. There was the steady drip of water from a melting icicle, so she used it to make her journey easy.
As she found her spirit self she was not surprised to find herself riding on the back of a giant red hawk. It felt good to be flying again, and Sariah just relaxed and enjoyed herself for a while. The bird gently landed her in a quiet thicket somewhere she had never been before. It was soundless. The trees were almost transparent, and the ground, although it held her, seemed to be lighter than any ground she had ever walked on. She felt someone in front of her, and looked up to see Walter. He was shining, and his eyes had an inner light. He smiled. She reached out toward him, but he shook his head.
"No, Sariah, I am dead. I will not try to deceive you into thinking anything else."
It was then that Sariah knew that this vision was from the Creator. Her heart began to race. "Walter, what is this place, 'Spirit Prison?'"
"No, I would not call it a prison. Come with me."
Suddenly the ground dropped away and Walter and Sariah were in a place she knew they didn't belong. The ground was barren, and an army was practicing with sword and spears in the middle of the field. She could see her father with these soldiers. All of them had blank faces, and seemed to be soulless. Separating them from her and Walter was an iron fence, with a big iron gate, as she watched, the gate swung shut, with a slam. Even the ground shook.
"This is Spirit Prison. Here, those who lived to control others are locked into their own ways. But you are here for other reasons. Come with me."
This time they flew into a place with an open field, strewn with stalks of wheat. Here, women and children with a few men, bent and gathered the wheat. She saw her mother bending and working.
"These are those who gave away their power their whole lives. They are here to learn to find themselves. When they do, they are free," said Walter.
"And me? What would my punishment be?"
"You punish yourself more efficiently than anyone else could devise. You can take control of your own life now. All you need to do is get your power back."
Sariah stepped toward the field.
"Not here, Sariah. This is not where you left it," said Walter.
"But where?" asked Sariah.
Walter was fading away. He mouthed, "I love you" before he was gone.
Sariah was pacing now, determined to discover where this power she had mislaid was hidden. She was in an old forest now, mostly pine, with interesting mounds coming straight up out of the ground. She found a doorway into one and went inside. Inside the door was a wooden box. She opened it. There was a copper plate, covered with hieroglyphs. She looked under it, discovering a doll, made of rags and with yarn hair. She had forgotten all about that doll. It was made by her mother and she had slept with it while her father was gone to the war. He left nice, and came back mean. She hugged the doll to her and turned to leave when a voice called to her. Inside the box was a little cricket. It spoke to her in Emily's voice.
"Don't forget me."
"Never," said Sariah, as she put the cricket in her pocket, then she took the doll and the copper plate with her and came back into her body.
Sariah opened her eyes. It was quiet. She could see Buddy asleep outside. She got up and threw a little wood on the fire, then lay down again. What did it all mean? She could see that she was not to part from Emily, but did Emily know? Sariah had her doubts. The doll was that part of her childhood that had not been a living hell on earth. She decided to make a copy of that doll to remind herself of the child she had been for a few precious years. The copper plate puzzled her. Maybe she would learn that later. Exhausted but relieved, Sariah rolled over and went to sleep.
The next morning, Emily learned first hand what Julia had been talking about. She was used to getting up first, preparing breakfast for thirty people, and passing out the food, then cleaning up the mess. This morning, she tried biscuits with the usual mush and meat. As she mixed them, she absent-mindedly crushed the weevils in the flour with her thumb. They didn't hurt anyone, and she had gotten over any fastidiousness learned from her mother while at Winter Quarters. The little flour weevils ran from her, their bodies looking like tiny saw blades. Oh well, she had heard that everyday people ate tiny bugs too small to be seen without special lenses.
Emily had breakfast all done, corn meal mush, roasted bear and biscuits. But no one came to the fireside for their meal. Emily got up and wandered, a bit too casually, over to the nearest wagon. She heard a groan, and smelled something akin to the order of a privy. She climbed up and peeked into the back. The people were lying still, while filth and vomit covered the wagon floor. She turned away to keep from getting sick herself.
Emily went back to the shelter, mentally inventorying what Sariah had told her. She got a basin, cleaning rags. Then Emily opened the medicine box, carefully snapping the traps shut with a stick. She got out the big packet of sassafras root, and the other of dried nettle leaves. Sariah had said something about pocoon. What was pocoon? She recognized wild ginger, milk thistle seed, and pokeweed, but where would this pocoon be? Under the top layer were milkweed root, golden seal and tincture of lobelia. Then Emily remembered that Sariah had learned the Indian names of her herbs. She knew pokeweed was a good liver support. Was that what Sariah meant? Emily said a quick prayer, and her heart was filled with assurance that pocoon was poke weed.
She set part of the herbs to boil, and put the rest back in their protected box. Then she filled her basin with warm water and took rags to do the one job she hadn't counted on.
It was hours later that Emily paused from her clean up efforts, and her ministration to the sick, to remember to clean up and eat something herself. She was exhausted. She flopped to the tarp she was sitting on, and ate. Her food was like sawdust, but she chewed mechanically. She wished with all her heart that the far more competent Sariah were there with her. After a short rest, Emily made a broth with the buffalo meat and took it around to the sick. Now they were shivering as if they were lying exposed in the snow, but she had carefully covered them with their blankets. Some were out of their heads, crying about snakes in their hair and on their children.
It was the youngsters Emily felt most sorry for. She held a little boy, barely six, with fluffy yellow hair. He reminded her of a baby chick. His eyes were staring at the back of the wagon, and he kept ranting about a giant bull that was over there, running for him. He was shaking as with an ague. Emily gave him a few drops of lobelia in some water. After a minute, he vomited violently onto the rag she had ready for him. There wasn't enough of the precious tincture to go around, so she saved it for the very young, and the very old. These were the ones most likely to die. After a full day of this work, Emily crawled into her bedroll and fell into a deep sleep.
Sariah worked her way down the mountain, and then hit level enough ground to ride Buddy. They moved along like the wind, for Buddy wanted this run and fairly ate up the trail. It was only a few days hard ride to the Fort. When they finally arrived, Sariah demanded to see the trader. A crowd gathered round as she described the situation at the pass.
"There are about thirty people. Their wagons are stuck in the snow, and my friend and I couldn't get them out by ourselves. The people are sick, so she is staying to take care of them. ."
"She?" interrupted the trader. "You left a woman up there?"
"I had no choice. I can lead you right there. Can we get a rescue party ready?"
The trader did not hesitate.
"Take five men and follow her up to the pass, take picks and shovels, whatever you need," he said.
There was a scurry as the men grabbed what they needed. Sariah unsaddled Buddy and brushed her down. As she worked, a man with eyes like steel came up and talked to her.
"That's quite a situation you have up there."
"Yes. It's life and death, I think. Emily is competent and has a level head on her shoulders, but I do worry."
He lifted an eyebrow, and his moustache rose with it.
"Emily?" he asked.
"Emily Lamb. She and I are going to Salt Lake Valley."
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Sariah Porter. Yours?"
"Ed Johns. Are you related to Orrin Porter Rockwell?"
Suspicion grabbed Sariah by both shoulders. She kept her eyes on Buddy's flank.
"Why do you ask?"
"Man was killed back at the ferry. The ferryman said the only people he saw that day besides him were you two."
Sariah took a deep breath. She could feel the irons around her wrists and ankles already.
"Oh. Who was it?"
"A man by the name of Charles Porter. He called himself, 'Captain'. He was a mean cuss. Wasn't he your father?"
"Yes. Who are you?"
"I'm the US Marshall hereabouts."
Sariah felt sick. If she didn't confess to killing her father now, Emily would. Sariah knew she would rather take the prison sentence or hanging than to see Emily face it. She looked The Marshall right in the eye.
"I done it. I killed him."
Ed Johns looked at Sariah doubtfully. The muscle in his jaw worked. "Prove it," he said.
Sariah was rather taken aback. Usually criminals were required to prove they didn't kill someone. "He was shot near the heart, with arrows--two of them."
Sariah didn't have to lie then. "Because I hated him," she said.
"Why arrows? I heard you are a crack shot."
"We were surrounded by a buffalo herd. I didn't want to risk a stampede."
Marshall Johns leaned closer, his face a mask. "But he had a rifle."
"Pointed at me. He didn't care. Look, there would have been hoof prints all over the place, but no one else can show you these."
And Sariah opened her pouch, thanking the Creator that she had been the one to take the ends off the arrows. She felt around until the ends were in her palm, then grasped them and took them out. She noticed his hand flex toward his gun handle, and then relax as he saw the broken bits of arrow.
"Those are Omaha made," he said.
"I got them arrows from friends. Look, I done it--but I have to ask you. Will you let me lead the rescue party back up to South Pass? They need my help. I won't run off. You can take me in then."
He rocked back on his heels, a flicker of something she couldn't read in his eyes. Those eyes bored into hers.
"I have a good mind to take you in alright. I don't approve of daughters killing their own fathers. But, it was self-defense, and this one was a wanted man . . . "
"For killing my Ma? Or killing the man I was going to marry?" asked Sariah.
Johns looked confused. Then slowly shook his head. "He killed your mother? And another man? I didn't even know about those. I only know he killed Deputy Stockton in Kearney City, Nebraska. And that there was a reward for him, dead or alive."
Sariah's knees were weak, and she almost fell. As it was, she grabbed at Buddy for support, feeling her coarse hairs told her how real this was. Her father was a wanted man. That seemed just enough, and because she had lied to protect Emily, she was going to get money. Money that belonged to Emily. She would have to give it to her later, when the law wasn't looking. And she knew just what the stubborn New Englander would do. Sariah would have to make her take the reward money.
While she and Marshall Johns worked out the details, and Buddy got her promised treat, the rescue party was preparing. It was going to be a two-week trip up to South Pass and back. Sariah wondered how Emily was doing, suddenly missing her terribly.
When Emily opened her eyes, she got up slowly. Every muscle hurt. Even her eyes hurt. She rolled out of bed and stood. There was breakfast to make, and people to heal, and she was not feeling all that great herself. She knelt and prayed--hard. "Heavenly Father, I am in over my head. I don't know how to help these people and I'm afraid of Julia and Mr. King. Please help me help them--all of them. And please take good care of Sariah. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
Emily got a basin and walked over to the fire pit. There was no more firewood. That was not a problem. She and Sariah had chopped a chord while they were there together. Emily walked toward the woodpile and stopped dead in her tracks. Ice gleamed off the top of the whole woodpile, as it fell in graceful, glassy splendor covering every inch of wood. An empty bucket stood nearby.
Anger seized Emily as she felt a molten core like lava ready to shoot out of her head. She looked for the axe, and found it frozen into the woodpile. Then she heard Julia's voice. "Alright, my dears, just keep taking the elixir, and you'll feel all better. Don't worry about yesterday. She's young and just doesn't know what she's doing."
Emily wheeled around and marched off to find Julia. She literally felt hot under her collar. Julia was standing behind the wagon, looking as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. If that woman had undone all her hard work . . . Emily's hands were in fists. "Julia!" said Emily. "I want to talk to you."
"Later my dear, I have work to do," said Julia as she sailed past. Emily followed her and stood her ground. She was praying with every breath for help from God.
"Now, Julia!" said Emily. Her words were not an invitation.
Julia looked at her, her lips almost in a smirk."Why, whatever is the problem?"
"One--I have a problem with you poisoning these people when I worked all day yesterday to help them get off that stuff."
"Why, no one has established that the elixir is poison."
"Sariah has. She knows what she is doing. And she told me what to do. The other problem I have is with the ice covering the woodpile. How do you expect to eat with no wood?"
Julia blinked. Emily guessed that King had iced the woodpile on his own. Julia pursed her lips. This was the final straw. Emily called on every ounce of spiritual strength she had. Something warm landed on her shoulders, like a cloak settling over them. She was standing taller, and something told her to speak.
"I rebuke you in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Go to your wagon and interfere no more."
And Julia went. Emily got the rawhide sled out and walked down the path. On the path, about 100 feet away, was a big pile of newly fallen branches. They were bare of needles, and dry as a bone. She loaded the sled, and went back to build a fire. As her meal cooked, she went back to the medicine box. She opened it, sprung the traps, and dug inside. The lobelia was nearly gone. Emily had used up the Poke Weed,and most of the Milk Thistle seed. She cast her mind onto what else might work. Her thoughts kept returning to the Golden Seal. Sariah had said it was her favorite remedy. A sovereign remedy, she had called it.
Emily examined the gold colored roots. They were hard as stone and covered in hairy little roots. She used her Bowie knife to cut them up enough to make a tea, and prepared it. The roots had the most bitter smell she had ever encountered in her life. She found the rest of the Milk Thistle seeds, and more Sassafras. Sariah sure liked Sassafras. There was plenty of it. Then she went to the wagon to see what damage Julia had done.
The people were like ghosts. The hopelessness in their eyes vied with mistrust. They were no longer vomiting and shaking. Emily was sorry for them, but a bit angry too. All their sickness would have to be gone through again. She looked for the little boy she had held. He was asleep in a corner. She climbed into the wagon.
"What are you going to do? Are you giving us more of those herbs that made us so sick?" asked the boy's mother, a plain woman with soft brown hair and light blue eyes.
"It wasn't the herbs I gave you that made you sick. It was taking the elixir for so long that your body rebels when you no longer have it. But, listen to me. The more you take it, the more strength you lose. You will feel a little better today, but I guarantee you will be worse off down the road. Demon Rum has his hooks in you. Just because he is disguised as medicine doesn't make it any different than if you were buying it from a tavern."
The people were quiet. As if she had yelled at them. She wondered what to say next. "I remember when I was back home that we would have Town Meetings. And everyone would have their say. When you feel better, I think I would like you to have one to decide what you want to do now," she said.
A fellow with grey temples, and dark hair looked at her and smiled.
"I had almost forgotten what a Town Meeting was like. Julia and Dr. King are such strong leaders . . . you know?" he said.
"I know. But when you are well, you can all share the leading together. I found another herb to use, and there is enough for everyone, I think. It smells nasty, so I hope you can stand it."
"The more bitter the medicine, the better for you, my mother always told me," said the grey-templed man.
Emily made her way to the next wagon, where she found the people in the same shape as the first group. Her suspicious nature was immediately aroused. "Have Julia or Mr. King been here?"
"No. But we are feeling better, thanks to you," said a sallow complexioned woman with bad teeth.
"I have more herbs too. I'll be back," said Emily.
She made the rounds of each group, and only the first wagon confirmed Julia had given them elixir. So, she fed them, and gave them herbs, and watched them grow stronger day by day. King and Julia avoided her except for mealtime. She fed them as she did all the others.
Emily was in a routine by now. The work was hard, but organized in a way she found simple to do. By the end of the week, almost everyone was strong enough to help with the cooking, gathering firewood and generally acting like a normal camp. But their wills were like wet clay. This bothered Emily to no end. Mr. Emerson would not have approved.
It was mid morning of the ninth day. The breakfast clean up was done. Women were gathered at the snow shelter to talk. Emily called the men and children to join them. As they sat on rugs in the cold air, she addressed them as if she had been standing behind a pulpit.
"I talked to you about having a Town Meeting. Now, I believe, is the time. Let us gather at the fire, for warmth, and talk about what comes next," said Emily. And to her amazement, they did. Eager faces looked to her for help. They were standing straight, with clear, bright eyes, and open countenances. Emily gave another quick prayer, and went on. "As most of you know, at a Town Meeting, everyone speaks. I have my journal here, and I can write what each of you says."
With that, she dipped her pen in her ink and poised it over the pristine page, waiting, hoping it didn't freeze before anyone spoke. The man with the grey temples stood, finally, and spoke.
"I'm Ezra Wilcox. I guess this is a momentous occasion, so I think we should tell our whole names. I want to thank Emily for helping us, and for calling this Town Meeting. I guess the first order of business is to get down off this mountain," he said.
Emily wrote, saying nothing. The woman with the sallow complexion stood next. "My name is Hannah Westbrook. I think we should just keep going to Nevada, like we planned. I don't think it's fair to turn our backs on Julia and Dr. King. Why should we do that? It isn't fair!"
When she sat, a red-faced man with huge hands and arms hanging from a thick chest spoke. "Hannah, how can you say that? Things have changed. We can't just climb in our wagons and take off. The wheels are stuck in the snow and ice, and as far as I'm concerned, we don't owe the Kings anything. It's their fault we got into this mess in the first place. Oh, my name is George Tanner." As he sat down, several people glared at him, and a few applauded.
It was then that Emily saw the Kings make their entrance, and what an entrance it was. He was dressed in his best worsted suit, with a hat. The tails of the suit hung down splendidly. She wore a fine dress with fur trimmings, and a sky blue cloak, and a fur muff to keep her hands warm. He stood on the only rock in the circle around the fire. She stood just behind him.
"My friends, I, as you know, am Doctor Almonzo King. I have sat with you when you were sick, and helped you get better. I cured you of your weaknesses, and planned this health resort with each of you. Now, I ask you--is this any way to thank me--us, for all we have done for you?"
From that point, the day went from bad to worse. Emily was just grateful, by the end of it that the Kings hadn't set up shop to sell more elixir. Emily went to bed feeling defeated and angry.
The next morning, Emily fed everyone, then ran to the circle, and claimed the rock as her own. When the Kings arrived, they frowned at her, but took their places with everyone else. "I have moved because this is an easier place to write. I will be at this spot every day until we finish."
As the people talked, there were two themes: roughly half the people wanted to elect their own leaders and figure out what to do with themselves after the rescue party arrived. A small group wanted to turn back the clock to undo any changes. A few just had public tantrums. The rest firmly supported the Kings. Every time progress was made, Julia took the floor. She used the inside of the circle as a stage, performing to a captivated audience. Emily wanted to wring her neck.
That night, a small group of people who wanted their own government approached Emily.
"I'm so sick of what Julia is pulling. We have got to stop her performances," said George.
"Yes," said a woman called Charity, "Even if we have to put broken glass all around the fire to keep her still. You left a lot of broken glass just outside camp," she said.
"Sariah told me that in one of the other Indian Tribes she knows about, they have a talking stick, and whoever holds it is the speaker."
"Julia would never give it back," said Charity.
"We could time it, say ten minutes a turn, and everyone must have a turn before the next repeat," said Emily.
"What about the use of the fire circle as a stage?" asked a man called Malachi.
"Is there anyone who doesn't hear well?"
"Lot Bailey. He's old, and sometimes uses an ear trumpet," said George.
"Could someone ask him to say he needs whoever is speaking to take the center, so he can hear?" asked Emily.
The next day was much better. Julia and King were both well behaved, and the talk went fairly smoothly. Emily was determined to get things settled before the rescue party returned. There were some reliable people, and some hotheads. And there was always the dreaded possibility that the Kings would be welcomed back to leading this little flock.
It was decided to hold an election the next day to choose their new leaders. Emily was pressured to run, but declined because she was not going to be there. The candidates were chosen. Charity, George, Julia and Almonzo King were running for the two places open. Emily was getting worried.
As the rescue party stopped to rest that first night, then men were off by the fire, bragging, smoking and gossiping. Sariah got out the materials she had purchased in the Fort general store. The rags, scissors, thread, needles and embroidery thread were all ready to go. Sariah cut out the general doll shape.
"I heard she's Port Rockwell's niece, you know, the Avenging Angel of the Mormons. He kills anyone that tries to leave the faith. She got paid a bounty for killing her own father. I suppose he tried to take off and get free of the Mormons."
Sariah pulled especially hard on the tread as she listened. These men knew nothing. She was sorry that it was in part her fault that her uncle's reputation was so bad. She was wondering how to clear this up when two of the men walked over to her.
"What are you making?" asked a man with a thick neck and sunken eyes.
"A rag doll."
"A rag doll? For a kid?"
"Nope, for me," said Sariah.
The two started to laugh then.
"Hey, the Guinea Gal is making herself a rag doll."
Sariah used her most reasonable voice. "If I killed my own father, what makes you think I would have a moment's hesitation about killing you, if I felt like it," said Sariah.
Suddenly all the men had business elsewhere. The rest of the trip was uneventful.
Election day was cold and clear. The people sat around the fire and voted. Emily kept tally. She was also getting very nervous. George and Julia were neck and neck and Charity trailed King. When the voting was finished, Emily rubbed her eyes, then recounted. "All the candidates have the same number of votes," she announced.
"Now what?" asked George.
"Let me tell you a little story. It happens to be true. Maybe you have heard of Bronson Alcott, the philosopher. When he was younger, he and his family lived on a farm with some other people who were interested in his ideas. The men wanted him to work toward the world seeing his greatness. They urged him to send his daughters to live with the Shakers, and thus unencumbered, to lecture and write so that all would know how mighty his thoughts were.
So, they gathered in the parlor. The vote was two to one, with Alcott not voting. But in his family, the children had a vote, so he asked for his daughter's votes. They voted down the idea.
I think we should ask the children to vote. They have been here through the whole discussion. I trust their vote."
And so the children voted. Emily prayed, and counted the votes.
"The new council is: George, and I know this is unusual, but Charity and Julia have tied." said Emily. "There are no more votes to be counted."
"You haven't voted", said George.
"Then the new council is George and Charity."
There was a cheer, and general rejoicing which turned much louder as the people turned to see Sariah approach, followed by the rescue party. She marched right up to Emily, threw her arms around her and they kissed in front of the entire group.
The trip back to Fort Bridger was highlighted by a running argument over money. The party worked its way down the mountain, with the rescuers helping to drive the wagons down the steep, slippery, trail. The switchbacks were indeed treacherous, and frequently overlooked gaping canyons. The sounds of whips cracking over the backs of the oxen, mingled with . . .
"What do you mean it's my money? You earned it. You take it."
"No, it's blood money. I can just see trying to explain it to my new husband. Dear, I come with my own dowry. I earned it killing someone," said Emily quietly enough that only Sariah heard.
"It was self-defense, even the Marshall said so. You done it, you take it. I can earn all I need trapping. You should have your own money. It's good insurance."
Emily stared at Sariah, shock etched on her face.
"You mean in case my marriage fails, don't you? Don't you think I am old enough to be married?" asked Emily.
As they argued, Sariah could see The King's wagon lurching down the slope. He didn't trust anyone else to drive, so he was having all the troubles of the average flatlander in guiding his wagon. At one particularly dangerous turn, the back of the wagon dipped low enough that goods began spilling out the back. A wooden crate flew out of the wagon, and crashed on the rocks below. Sariah couldn't resist, so while the rest of the party helped King, she peeked over the rim to the crate below. The snow was being stained with a familiar brown liquid.
"What was that?" asked Emily.
Sariah tried to hide her smile. "The elixir."
The two of them spent the next hour trying not to laugh. Every time they looked at each other, the giggles would well up from inside. It wasn't long until their sides actually hurt. When the group settled for the night, Emily sat back and let others do the cooking. Sariah filled a plate for her, and served her as she sat on their tarp under their lean-to. The New Englander had certainly earned it from the stories she had been hearing.
"I understand that these people intend to put your picture on their coins when they get to Nevada," said Sariah.
Emily blushed. Sariah smirked, knowing she could use this to tease Emily all the way into Salt Lake Valley. Then she frowned. That valley was getting too close. She watched Emily eat, memorizing each detail. How Emily held her fork. How she cut her meat, how often she drank water. Her reverie was interrupted by the approach of Julia. Sariah wanted to hiss at her to go away, but she remained silent.
"Emily, may I speak to you?" asked Julia.
Emily made room for Julia on the tarp. Julia sat with natural grace. "This is hard for me, since I know I did nothing to make your life easier as you--well, I may as well admit it. You saved us. I'm sorry, for the problems I caused you," said Julia.
"Well, I know you had your plans, and I guess everything has changed now. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I still would like to do the health resort. I think people need this sort of place, where they can come and be made whole."
Sariah bit her tongue to keep from expressing herself on that subject. It rather hurt. Emily shifted her weight, and ate a bit of stew. "Have you had dinner?" she asked
"Yes. But thank you for asking. I do think I owe you at least some explanation. I lost my dear brother to asthma. It was hideous to watch him trying to breath. His face would grow positively blue. He grew weaker and weaker as time went on, and I just knew that if he had been able to get healthy, he wouldn't have died.
We lived in Philadelphia. The city is not a healthful place. I always wished I had been able to get him to a desert climate. And I kept hearing about the miracle cures the Indians had. So when Manny came along, I urged him to seek out real Indian healers, and inquire after their methods of healing. Manny is rather fond of shortcuts and money."
Emily looked downright uncomfortable. She really hated to think badly of actual people she had met. Sariah could see her struggling between wanting to forgive this woman and wanting to etch every second of their encounter in her mind. Then Sariah saw something shift in Emily's spirit. She looked at Sariah and Sariah knew what she was asking. It was a mighty big request. Emily waited, anxiously. Finally Sariah nodded her head.
"Julia, what if a genuine Indian Healer showed you some proper uses of herbs and so forth?" asked Emily.
Julia's face lit up. Then she looked at Sariah as if expecting to be slapped. "Would you, Sariah?"
Swallowing her pride, Sariah said, "Yes, starting tomorrow."
Julia jumped to her feet, hugging both Sariah and Emily and then running off to her wagon. Emily stood too, wrapping herself around Sariah. It felt so right. Sariah smiled as they exchanged a sweet kiss.
That night, they used the lean-to for privacy. It had been a long time since they had slept in each other's arms. When Emily came inside the little canvas shelter, her eyes opened wide at the rag doll sitting on top of Buddy's saddle in the corner. "Whose is that?" she asked.
"Mine. I made it like the one Ma made me when I was little."
"It's lovely. I didn't know you could embroider, and the hair--black yarn just fits you. How did she think to use brown cloth?"
"None of the dolls I seen growing up looked like me. They were white, with blue eyes, and yellow hair. Ma made me one that looked like me. I loved that doll. I had it until Pa came home from the War," said Sariah.
"What happened to it?"
"Pa threw it in the fire," said Sariah.
"Was he drunk?" asked Emily.
Sariah took a deep breath. This would be hard to explain. "I wish he had that excuse. He wasn't drunk, he was just mean," she said.
Sariah took the little doll, and put her into Emily's hands. Emily held her, looking down at the calico garbed doll, with the dark brown eyes, and black eyelashes and brows. She touched the yarn hair and smiled.
"I'm glad you made another one," she said.
"Me too. It will be nice to have someone to hold when I sleep after you get to Salt Lake Valley."
Tears welled up in Emily's eyes, and for just a moment, Sariah dared to hope. "I'll miss you, my friend," said Emily, and she leaned in to kiss Sariah. The sweet kiss almost made up for the fact that Emily was going away. The three of them, Sariah, Emily and the doll, slept together that night.
Julia was an apt pupil. She took copious notes, had Sariah draw pictures of the herbs in their natural state, and she wrote the dosages, and methods in detail. She also took to heart Sariah's advice to locate Healers who lived in Nevada, so that she could learn about local plants. The time passed far too quickly. By mid-afternoon, and almost before Sariah knew it, they were at the gates of Fort Bridger.
Sariah's chest tightened. This was too close to the end of their journey. She put her arms around Emily and held her close. Her scent filled her mind. Sariah could feel her hands in her hair, "It's still a week to the Valley," said Emily. and we could stay here a few days."
It was with heavy steps and a leaden heart that Sariah walked into the Fort. The first person she saw was Ed Johns. He was actually smiling. He walked towards them with a very purposeful tread.
"Hullo Sariah. This must be Emily. I'm Marshall Ed Johns. I have news for both of you. Sariah, yours isn't too pleasant. We found your man's body. We brought it back and buried him on the little hill outside the gates."
Sariah felt as if she had been drained. Part of her was glad he was found and given a decent burial. Part of her didn't want to be reminded of Walter's death.
"And Emily, I have good news. You have visitors. Richard and Melissa Purdy are here."
Sariah almost threw up. How dare they cut short her time with Emily!
"They were worried about you being so late, so they came looking for you. They are anxious to meet you."
Emily was silent. Sariah felt her slip her arm around her waist. It was not as comforting as Sariah had hoped. Sariah's energy was totally focused on not crying. "I'm sorry. I imagine they were worried to distraction," said Emily. "I'll see them in just a little bit. Thank you."
As she walked away, Sariah felt Emily's hand on her face, turning her so Emily could look into her eyes. "You know I love you, don't you?" she asked.
Sariah's throat was too constricted to answer. She just nodded.
" I want to tell you a little story. Once there was a flock of wild geese and as they flew, they happened upon a flock of tame geese behind a fence. The wild geese called out to the tame ones, 'Fly away with us. Winter is coming, and if you don't fly south with us you'll die.' The tame geese replied, 'The farmer feeds us and cares for us. Come into our fence, because out there you have to take your chances. Out there, without someone to feed and care for you, you'll die.' The farmer came to feed his geese, and the wild ones flew off, calling for the tame ones to fly south with them. And then when a few tried, they saw why the tame geese didn't fly off with them. Their wings were clipped."
"You are a magnificent wild goose. I guess I'm a tame one. I can't express how much this time with you has meant to me. I love you beyond any words I can find to express it. I'm going in to settle my future, and then I'll be back to say good-bye. Don't you dare leave without giving me a chance to do that."
"I guess I'll go see Walter's grave, then."
And Sariah watched as Emily walked away from her. It was only then that she allowed the tears to fall. She led Buddy into the stable and took the money, wrapping it in Emily's other skirt, and returning it to the pouch she had carried with her all the way from Winter Quarters. She ran her fingers through Emily's things, touching them one last time. Then she pulled the pack off Buddy, and put it on the ground, then brushed her, and checked her feet.
"It's just you and me again, Buddy. I'm all alone, and I..."And tears filled her eyes again.
Emily's heart was heavy. And she was really nervous. Why had she crossed a continent to marry someone she had never met? What if he was like Malcolm? What if he was a kind, considerate man? What if he didn't like her? What if she didn't like his first wife? Emily passed a soldier standing in front of the trading post. She went inside, to the fur heaped counters, the jumbles of traps, the fishing lines, bright calicos, the cookware, and barrels and sacks of food.
There was a man and a woman. He was a tall, with pale brown hair and anxious grey eyes. She was a lovely plump woman with laugh lines around her eyes. They were dressed for travel, in plain homespun clothes.
"Brother and Sister Purdy?"
"Emily?"--They spoke as one.
"Yes. I'm sorry to have worried you so. I was helping some people who got caught in a snowstorm," said Emily.
"Yes, we heard about it. Are you alright? You look a little pale," said Richard.
"I'm fine, really. The woman I came West with made sure I was safe the whole trek. She's marvelous. Quite the frontierswoman."
"I understand she's Brother Rockwell's niece," said Melissa. "You were in good hands." There was an awkward silence. Richards looked at his hands. Melissa smiled warmly.
"I really don't know how to talk about our future together," said Emily.
She noticed Richard and Melissa share a look. She wondered just what it meant. "Neither do we. My bishop called us to a Celestial Marriage, and when we heard about your situation in Nauvoo, we thought we could help. God bless those messengers who rode back and forth between the Valley and Winter Quarters," said Richard.
"Amen," said Emily automatically.
"What do you like to do? I mean, it would be nice if we had similar interests, don't you think?" asked Melissa.
"Well, I am a good cook, I read anything I can get my hands on, I write poetry, although I must admit I have let it slide in favor of writing in my journal. I like to discuss politics. I favor women's suffrage and I am an Abolitionist."
"My, my. You are a woman with opinions. Melissa and I never really got involved with such things. Too busy building our homestead, I think. Do you like children?"
Emily had to stop and think. Yes, she liked them, but never really thought about having any of her own. There were a lot of things she had never thought about. She was beginning to feel a bit trapped. There was nothing wrong with these people. She liked them. They were obviously good people. Why did she want to run off?
"They're all right, I guess," she finally said.
Melissa exchanged another look with her husband. "Tell us about your trip West, why don't you," she said.
"It was magnificent."
And she was off, telling their adventures, each one centering on Sariah. She was happier now, back in her own element and all nervousness left her. After nearly an hour, Richard stopped her. "Tell us more about Sariah," he asked.
"She's been wonderful. I have grown so much both in maturity and in my understanding of spiritual matters since I met her. I sometimes feel that we are like two trees with their roots grown together. I'm really going to miss her."
And the wave of longing finally broke through all her defenses. She literally was pushed back by it, and felt extremely off-balance. The Purdys exchanged another look. Much of their conversation seemed to be by telegraph. "Have you ever considered how it would be to have her as a co-wife with you?" asked Richard.
And Emily remembered Sariah's feelings on that topic. She tried to picture Sariah darning Richard's socks, and failed entirely. No, she could only see her friend wandering the trails West, hunting and trapping to her heart's delight--totally free.
"At one time, it would have been the dearest wish of my heart. But Sariah is like a wild bird. If she is ever caged, she'll die," said Emily.
"And you? How wild are you, Emily?" asked Melissa.
That was the reason she felt trapped. Her wings had never been clipped. She didn't belong with these nice people, living her life behind the fence of day-to-day life. She needed to be as free as Sariah was. Emily fought back tears. "I guess I am more wild than I thought," and her words echoed inside her head. How was she going to survive by herself? If she could care for thirty sick people on the mountaintop, she could do anything.
"I'm sorry. Thank you for helping me get here. How can I repay you?"
"You owe us nothing, if we had added you to our family, and you were unhappy, we would have been unhappy too. It's good we found this out now. Go to your friend. And may the Lord bless and keep you," said Richard.
Emily gave them a hug and fairly flew out of the fort and up the hill to where Sariah was standing. She slowed her step to show proper reverence for Sariah's mourning, and then slipped an arm around Sariah's waist. She noticed that Sariah was holding her rag doll in one hand.
The sun was beginning to set. Sariah was seeing the day end, and her love leave her, and the grave of the man she might have married. She wondered why this always seemed to happen to her. She was sick to death of being alone. Now here was Emily, back so soon, and planning to leave her. Emily belonged with her, but Sariah guessed she didn't know it. Maybe she could drop by from time to time and see Emily. And Sariah knew she could not stand it. She again asked the Creator for help.
"You're here to say goodbye already?" asked Sariah.
"No. I'm here to say, I'm not leaving you. If you'll have me, I'll stay with you as you help folks going West."
Sariah turned and looked into Emily's eyes. The tears were falling unashamed. She hesitated, looking down at her feet. "What did you say?"
"I want to stay with you. I love you, and I guess I wasn't as tame as I thought," said Emily.
Sariah's face lit up, and the rays of the sunset hit her profile, making nature's own spotlight.
"I have been praying so hard. You wouldn't believe how hard."
"Careful what you pray for, you might get it," said Emily.
They lips touched and their arms locked around each other as their hearts matched their beats and their spiritual roots entwined. The rag doll hung by a single arm, nearly forgotten. The sun was setting on the two friends and still they stood as one on a little rise, untamed as the land around them.
Clayton, William. Come, Come Ye Saints was a favorite Mormon Hymn of the era. It is currently copyrighted by the LDS Church. Used by permission.
When A Child I Lived in Boston was a popular folk song of the period.