Heritage of Honor
Book One Part Two
A Dream Deferred

Sharon Kay Bottoms


The next two days proved as monotonous and dreary as the emigrants expected.  Inger, especially, found the endless walking wearisome.  The added weight of the child within her seemed to drag her deeper into the dust than the women she walked beside.  At least, that’s how it seemed to Inger, who couldn’t believe how large she was growing.  While she had felt big as a house earlier in the journey, she no longer thought of that house as a single-family dwelling.  Now, she saw it as a well-populated boardinghouse of at least two stories.  She was eating more than she had in St. Joe, of course, but then, so was everyone else.  The extra exercise and the fresh air seemed to heighten all their appetites.  That same exercise, though, kept the others from gaining weight, while hers increased daily.

    As she studied her expanding girth, Inger began to wonder if all those jokes about carrying twins were jokes, after all.  Each night before she went to sleep, she breathed a silent prayer to her maker for the safe delivery of a strong, healthy child——but please, dear God, only one.  How would she ever care for two on this tiring trek across the prairie?

    Though it was a hour shy of the usual stopping time when the Larrimore train reached the South Platte Tuesday evening, no one wanted to attempt the crossing before morning.  The men needed time to appraise the situation; besides, the party wanted to stay together and they couldn’t all get across before dark.  On investigation, the river was found to be half a mile wide at this location, known as the California Crossing, and about two and a half feet deep.  Over Camilla’s shrieks of terror, Larrimore announced——and the others agreed——that they would ford the river the next morning.

    Breakfast was a hurried affair all over the camp.  Everyone felt tense about their first effort at fording a river, although only the women admitted their fear.  But while the other women felt edgy, Camilla Larrimore bordered on hysteria.  She had not forgotten seeing the Wentworth wagon lunge sideways into the Vermillion, and had a premonition her treasures would soon be floating down the South Platte, destination unknown.

    It was Larrimore’s turn to lead out, but Camilla, weeping, begged him to let someone else go first.  “If I could just know someone had crossed safely, I’m sure I’d feel easier,” she pleaded.

    But Larrimore, conscious that everyone was watching his wife’s display, turned a deaf ear.  “We can’t take just the advantages of lead position and not our share of the risks, Camilla,” he muttered harshly.  “Get hold of yourself, woman.”

    Tears streaked Camilla’s face.  “You never used to speak to me so, Lawrence.  Have you ceased to care for me as a husband ought?”

    Lawrence pulled her aside.  “Good gracious, Camilla!  Keep such questions for our bed!”  He took her damp cheeks between his palms.  “My feelings for you are the same as always, but you’ve got to stop making these scenes.  Or don’t you care what folks think of you anymore?”

    Camilla wiped her eyes.  “I care, Lawrence, but I’m just not a pioneer, and it’s time you faced that.  I’m doing my best.”

    Lawrence gave her a quick embrace.  “I know, I know.  I understand you’re afraid, but it’s our turn and we must take it.  I’ll send Enos over first with our second wagon.  That way, we’re mostly risking our trade goods, not your special keepsakes; but that’s as far as I can go, Camilla.”

    Camilla nodded.  “All right, Lawrence, but if it tips, we’ll find another way across with my things, yes?”

    Lawrence looked uncomfortable, but nodded slowly and headed over to tell Enos to lead the second wagon into the water first.  Enos shrugged nonchalantly and called to his team.  Walking beside them, he crossed the river, suffering nothing worse than a soaked pair of pant legs.  Then Lawrence followed with his other wagon while Enos splashed back through the river to round up the loose stock and herd them across.  Camilla stood on the east bank, nibbling her fingers.  When the family wagon rolled onto the west bank safely, she sighed with relief and waded across to hug her husband, all displeasure with him forgotten in her relief.

    Ben’s wagon was the next to cross, then Clyde Thomas’s.  Both arrived on the far shore with no difficulty.  Then Fredrich Zuebner led his oxen into the water.  Those who had already crossed didn’t bother watching; they assumed that Zuebner, with his superior skill with stock, was most likely of them all to make the ford easily.  But emigrants on both sides of the river rushed to its edge when they heard him shouting at his team.  “Get up, Buck; go on, Bright!  Keep moving, boys; keep moving!”  The team seemed to struggle for awhile, then pulled harder and reached the other side.

    Lawrence and Ben rushed to Zuebner.  “What was the trouble?” Lawrence asked.

    “Quicksand!” Zuebner cried.  “I thought we was goners, sure, but this is good team.”

    “What about the others?” Ben asked urgently.  “Can they cross safely?”

    “Sure, sure,” Zuebner said.  “Tell them to move upstream a bit, and if they hit more quicksand, keep team moving.  Is important not stop, you understand?”

    “Yeah,” Ben said.  He looked back at Lawrence.  “I’ll wade over and tell them,” he offered.

    Lawrence nodded.  “Appreciate it.”

    Only McTavish, Payne and Wentworth remained on the east bank.  McTavish took his turn first and forded over successfully.  Then Jonathan Payne started his animals.  Everyone watched anxiously now, hopeful their vigil would soon be rewarded, and everyone in their party would safely put the California Crossing behind them.

    Just over halfway across the river, one of the oxen started to flounder.  Payne sloshed forward to urge him on, but the ox bellowed in fear and refused to move.  Zuebner ran in to help, but the balky animal wouldn’t budge, and in his struggles tripped up his yoke mate.  Suddenly, what everyone had feared happened; and the Payne wagon crashed onto its side.

    All the men plunged in to unhitch the animals and right the wagon.  Then since Larrimore’s two teams had had the most time to rest, they were double-hitched to Payne’s entrenched wagon to pull it to the west shore.  Tears in her eyes, Rachel waded across carrying little Susan.  Inger went to her immediately and took the baby so Rachel would be free to sort through her drenched belongings.

    On the east bank Wentworth and his family stood looking fearfully at the river.  “Can you handle it?” Martha asked, clearly worried.

    Wentworth looked up, as if beseeching the heavens for an answer.  Finally, he looked at his wife.  “I’m not good at this, as you know, my dear; but I am confident God has called us to California to preach His Word.  What can we do but try our best and trust God’s mercy?”  Martha smiled and patted his arm supportively.

    Just as Wentworth started to lead his team into the water, though, he saw Fredrich waving as he came splashing toward him.  Wentworth waited until Zuebner plodded ashore.

    “You want I should lead team across?” Zuebner offered.

    “Praise the Lord!” Martha shouted.  “We surely do.”

    “Yes, yes,” Wentworth agreed instantly.  “You are an answer to prayer, my friend.”

    “Prayer is your job, Reverend,” Zuebner said.  “Teams is mine.  You do your part; I do mine, all right?”

    “More than all right,” Wentworth said.  With Zuebner’s help, the party was soon reunited on the far side of the South Platte, and everyone stood with bowed heads as Wentworth gave thanks to the Almighty that none had been lost.

    Inger, with Susan Payne still cradled in her arms, approached her own wagon, where she saw Ben feeding a campfire.  “Oh, thank you for doing my chores, Ben,” she said.

    “Well, you seemed kind of busy,” Ben replied.  “It’s the least I could do.  I sent Adam to angle for our supper.  I guess in a pinch I could fry the fish if you’re still tied up.”

    “No, I vill cook,” Inger insisted.  “I asked the Paynes to supper, and I vould like to fix a good one.”

    “In that case, I’d better help Adam catch us a double mess,” Ben said and headed toward the river.

    Inger took a blanket from the back of the wagon and laid the baby down to play with her toes.  Then she crawled back inside to see what she had available to go with the fish.  Not finding anything beyond the usual staples, Inger sighed, grabbed a bag of rice and emerged from the wagon to see Martha Wentworth bending over the baby.

    “Hello, Inger,” Mrs. Wentworth said.

    “Hello,” Inger replied.  “Can I help you vith anything, Martha?”

    “As a matter of fact, you can,” Martha said with a smile.  “I don’t know if you realize it, but the Paynes lost a good bit of their supplies——more than we did when we tipped awhile back.”

    “Yah, I knew,” Inger sighed.  “I have been helping Rachel go through things.”

    “Then you know they need help,” Martha stated.  “I’d like to organize a pounding for them.”

    “A pounding?” Inger asked, puzzled.  “But surely they do not need to be pounded on top of all their other trouble.”

    Martha gasped.  “Oh, my dear, don’t you know what a pounding is?”

    Inger shrugged.  “Like a hammer on nails?”

    Martha giggled.  “Oh, no, no——nothing like that, Inger, dear.  Usually, it’s the minister who gets pounded, so I can assure you it doesn’t hurt a bit.  A pounding is a kind of gift-giving to show love or gratitude, or in this case, just neighborliness.  It gets its name from what folks bring——a pound of this or a pound of that.”

    Inger laughed.  “Oh, I see, now.  That is much less painful than hammering, yah?”

    “Much, much,” Martha tittered.  “Now, I was thinking that if we each gave the Paynes a pound of whatever we could spare, they’d have enough to get to Ft. Laramie and resupply.”

    “What a vonderful idea!” Inger cried.  “Ve can spare that much of almost everything, and I am sure the others can, too.”

    “Without being a burden on anyone,” Martha explained.  “Rachel said you’d asked her family to eat with you tonight, so I thought we could sneak things over to the Payne wagon while they were here.  Then, they’d get a nice surprise when they went back.”

    “Oh, yah, that vill be fun,” Inger agreed.  “If you vill vatch the baby, I vill get our ‘pounds’ and you can take them vith you.”

    Martha sat down on the blanket and let Susan grasp her little finger.  “Take your time,” she said.  “This little lady and I will get along just fine.”

    Rachel Payne’s eyes were dry, but still red, when she arrived with Jonathan and Johnny for supper that night.  Though she praised the tasty fish, she couldn’t bring herself to eat much.  She said nothing, but the furrows on her forehead revealed her fretful thoughts.  Inger hated to see her friend suffer; but knowing Rachel’s fears would soon be put to flight, she made cheerful conversation about how Susan was growing.

    Rachel smiled.  Even though she knew Inger was trying to take her mind off her troubles, she couldn’t help responding to praise of her daughter.  If anything could take her mind off her troubles, it surely would be this greatest of blessings.

    After a satisfying dinner the Paynes walked home, unaware of the eyes following their steps.  “Why, what on earth?” Rachel cried when she saw the sacks of flour, cornmeal, rice, beans and coffee stacked against their wagon wheels.  “Where did all this come from?” she asked, overwhelmed.

    “Friends,” Jonathan said, wiping a tear from his eye before it disgraced his masculinity.  “Mighty good friends.”

    Rachel hugged him tight, then called into the darkness, “Thanks to all you good elves out there!”  Only silence met her words, but wives smiled into the faces of their husbands and husbands at their wives.  Then everyone disappeared into their respective tents, and the silence was broken by the sound of snores rumbling in the night.

* * * * *

    After being on the trail only half an hour Thursday, Ben’s wagon, in the lead that morning, pulled to the bottom of California Hill.  “Adam,” Ben called, “you’ll have to get out now.”  Adam had spent so much time fishing the previous afternoon that he’d fallen behind in his lessons, so he’d been catching up in the back of the wagon.  He readily scrambled out at his father’s summons, though; it was hard to read, anyway, with the wagon jouncing the print before his eyes.

    Inger gave the youngster a hug.  “Run back and stay vith the Thomases until ve are up the hill.”  Adam gladly ran to join his friend Billy.

    “That goes for you, too,” Ben ordered.  “Back with the others.”

    “But I vant to help,” Inger protested.

    “No,” Ben said firmly.  “Get back with the others.”  He turned his attention to the team as Inger headed to the rear.

    She didn’t go far, though.  Certain the animals would have trouble pulling the heavy wagon up the hill, she put her shoulder to the rear wheel and pushed.  The extra impetus did seem to help the oxen, and Inger had a moment’s satisfaction before the wheel rolled back and she lost her footing.  With a sharp cry, she tumbled pell-mell down the hill.

    Ben spun around at the sound of his wife’s scream and charged down after her.  “Inger!” he cried as he gathered her limp form into his arms.  “Inger, darling!”

    “Oh, Ben,” Inger moaned, her face contorted with pain.  “I should have listened.  I—I am sorry.”

    “Shh.  Hush now,” Ben soothed.  “You’ll be all right, sweetheart.”  An involuntary cry escaped Inger’s lips.  She wanted to believe Ben, but pain and fear combined to clasp her in their chilly grip.

    Nelly Thomas bent over her, stroking Inger’s forehead with a calming hand.  “Best bring your wagon back down, Ben,” she suggested.  “Clyde can help you get Inger inside.  She’s gonna need some rest.”  Ben nodded and took off after the team he’d left on the hillside.

    Soon Inger was reclining in her wagon on a narrow mattress loaned by the Paynes.  Rachel sat at her side, rubbing her hand in an attempt to comfort her.  “You’re gonna be all right, Inger,” Rachel said, unconsciously echoing Ben’s promise.

    “For myself, I have no fear,” Inger sobbed.  “It is the baby.  I—I cannot feel him, Rachel.”

    Rachel laid a hand on Inger’s belly and said a silent prayer.  But, like Inger, she felt no reassuring movement.  “Well, that could be a good sign,” Rachel said.  “At least, the fall hasn’t brought on premature labor.”

    Inger gave a rough laugh.  “Premature!  Look at me, Rachel.  This baby is anything but premature.”

    Rachel smiled.  “No, I guess not.  Just relax, though, Inger; don’t borrow trouble ‘til it gets here.  Trust me, it shows up often enough without looking for it.”

    Remembering her friend’s trouble the previous day, Inger reached for Rachel’s hand.  “Ve have had our share this veek, yah?”

    “We surely have!” Rachel agreed.

    Ben stuck his head through the rear opening in the wagon cover.  “How’s she doing?” he asked.

    Rachel stepped across to Ben.  “She’s resting comfortably in spite of the pain,” she whispered, “but she’s worried about the baby.”  Ben paled.  Like Inger, he’d eagerly awaited the birth of their child for nearly nine months.  To lose the baby now, when they’d come so close to that time of joy, was unthinkable.  But, even so, Ben knew that would be easier to face than the loss of Inger herself.

    He paced the ground outside his wagon, feeling the futility of the motion, but not knowing what else to do with himself.  Looking up, he saw the other men of the party approaching him and comprehended at once the purpose of the delegation.  He had, however, no idea what response he could make to their justifiable concern.

    Lawrence came up abreast of him.  “How is she, Ben?” he asked solicitously.

    McTavish came straight to the point.  “How long before she can travel?”

    Ben spread his hands in a noncommittal gesture.  “She’s in pain,” he said.

    “No one wants to push you,” Wentworth explained, “but they’re concerned about the time we’re losing——yesterday and today.”

    Ben nodded, but had no other answer to give.  “I guess we could take last place today,” he suggested.  “Maybe by the time everyone else is up—”

    “No one’s leaving you behind,” Lawrence said sharply.  “We’re made of better stuff than that.”  Ben smiled appreciatively, but his brow was wrinkled with worry.  Without knowing how long he and Inger might be delayed, how could he ask the others to jeopardize themselves by waiting with them?

    “Ben, Ben,” Inger called, peering out the back of the wagon.  “Come here.”

    Ben hurried to her.  “Inger, you’re supposed to be resting,” he chided.

    “Ben, tell them ve can go on now,” Inger said.

    Ben bit his lip.  He hadn’t realized the men had spoken loudly enough for her to hear.  “No,” he said.  “You’re not able yet.”

    Inger reached through the cinched opening in the wagon cover to smooth her palm across his cheek.  “I am able, Ben.  I vas only concerned about the baby, but I felt life inside me again.  I know now I vill carry the child.  Please, Ben, tell them ve vill go on.”

    Ben glanced at Rachel Payne, whose supporting arm surrounded Inger’s shoulders.  “Is she all right?” he asked.

    “Oh, don’t worry, Ben,” Rachel assured him.  “She’s a strong, healthy girl.”

    Ben walked back over to the men.  “We’ll go on,” he said.

    “Good,” McTavish said bluntly and headed back toward his wagon.

    “Look here,” Clyde said to those who still remained.  “Seein’ as how Inger needs to stay in that wagon and that’ll make a harder pull for the oxen, why don’t some of us give their wagon a push?”

    “Sure, I help,” Zuebner offered.

    “Me, too,” said Jonathan Payne.

    “Good,” Lawrence declared.  “Now, if you each take a back wheel, Cartwright and I can take a front one, and we’ll soon have this family on top of California Hill, where they belong!”

    Rachel Payne climbed down from the wagon to spare the oxen her extra weight, and the four men braced themselves against their designated wheels.  With the added help, the oxen easily made the pull up the hill, and the men gave a shout of triumph.  Rachel started to climb up after them to check on Inger, but Nelly Thomas tapped her on the back.  “Mrs. Wentworth says your baby’s cryin’, Rachel,” she said.  “Probably wants feedin’.  I’ll see to Inger.”

    Rachel nodded her thanks for the message and the offered help and walked back to feed Susan.  Nelly climbed on up the hill and stepped into the Cartwright wagon, which had stopped while Ben went back down to assist the next wagon up.  “How you makin’ out, honey lamb?” Nelly asked.

    Inger smiled.  “Except for the usual bumps and jolts, I am fine.”

    “Well, I’ll be checkin’ on you from time to time,” Nelly promised.  “Don’t be thinkin’ we’ve forgot you.”

    “I know you vould not,” Inger responded warmly.

    With everyone working together, the rest of the train reached the top of the hill without trouble.  Larrimore’s wagons, being more heavily loaded than the others, though, had to be double-teamed, and that took extra time.  The emigrants didn’t make much progress that day; but the next was better, though the trek across the high, waterless tableland blew dust in their faces.

    That dust was the only reason Inger was content to follow Ben’s adamant orders to remain in the wagon.  How she was supposed to rest, though, with the springless vehicle jostling her from side to side was beyond Inger’s understanding.  That night as she lay next to her husband in their tent, she begged for a reprieve.  “I vould much prefer to valk, Ben,” she pleaded, “and I am sure it is safe.  The baby is fine.”

    “It’s you I’m concerned about,” Ben whispered and kissed her ear.

    “And I, too, am fine,” Inger assured him.  “I had a bad scare; that is all.  There is no more pain.”

    “All right, you can walk,” Ben decided.  He didn’t see any reason to tell Inger that he wouldn’t have allowed her to ride tomorrow, even without her pleas——not when they’d be leaving the tableland via a descent all the guidebooks described as hair-raising.

    When Ben got his first look at Windlass Hill the next day, he was pretty sure no one else would attempt it from the inside of a wagon, either.  Clyde Thomas, standing beside Ben, whistled.  “Land o’ mercy!” he bellowed.  “It’s well nigh straight down.”  Clyde didn’t look thrilled with the opportunity to be first to tackle the precipitous drop.  It was his turn, though, so he gave his britches a hitch and turned toward his team.

    “Lock your wheels first, Clyde,” Lawrence ordered.  “Otherwise, they’ll roll too fast.”

    “You sure this is safe, Larrimore?” Clyde asked.

    “Thousands have done it before you,” Lawrence replied.  “It’s a tough couple of miles, but you can manage it.”

    Looking again at the steep descent, Clyde gulped.  He wished he felt as confident as Larrimore sounded.  He pulled his chains through the spokes of the rear wheels and hooked them to the wagon bed.  “Well, now or never, I guess,” he said to Nelly.

    “You be careful, Clyde,” Nelly admonished.  She stood to the side of the trail near the edge of the precipice, so she could watch her husband’s descent.  Feeling an arm circle her waist, Nelly looked up and smiled at Inger.  “I ain’t worried,” Nelly said.

    Inger nodded, certain Nelly had spoken for her own benefit, rather than Inger’s.  “All vill be vell,” Inger said.  At first, her prediction appeared correct.  The wagon skidded behind the oxen, faster than if on level land, but not racing into the team the way it would have with unlocked wheels.  Halfway down, the wagon started to gain speed.  Even so, seeing the ground level out ahead, Clyde thought he was going to make it.  While still on the decline, though, the wagon careened into the rear yoke of oxen and reeled over, spilling its contents down the hill.

    “Clyde!” Nelly screamed and ran down after him.

    Inger started to follow her, but Ben grabbed her by the elbow.  “Don’t you dare!” he commanded.  “You stay right here, Inger Cartwright.”  Mindful that her previous disobedience had put both her and her child in jeopardy, Inger stopped.  Ben, the other men in the party and Martha Wentworth right behind him, raced to help Clyde and Nelly.

    Before Ben and the others could reach the bottom of the hill, though, a shot rang out.  Smoke was still drifting from Clyde’s rifle when Ben ran up to him.

    “Couldn’t let the critter suffer,” Clyde explained.

    “Hurt that bad, huh?” Ben asked.  Clyde nodded gravely.  “How about the wagon?” Ben queried.

    “See for yourself,” Clyde snorted.  “It’s a pure mess.”

    Nelly was standing beside the crippled wagon as Ben approached it.  Martha Wentworth came up and took the trembling woman in her arms.  “It’s a miserable job, I know,” Martha said, “but we’ll all pitch in and help, Nelly.”

    “But look at the wagon,” Nelly wailed.  “The supplies are probably all right, but how can we carry them in that?”

    Ben saw what she meant.  Unlike the wagons which had tipped crossing rivers, this one was smashed in on one side.  More importantly, the rear axle appeared broken.  “You have a spare?” Ben asked Clyde.

    Clyde shook his head.  “Couldn’t afford the extra weight with the blacksmithing tools I was carryin’.  Fool choice to make, I reckon.”

    McTavish was examining the wagon.  “Wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” he said.  “The back half of your wagon’s good for nothing but firewood, man.”

    “Yeah,” Clyde muttered.  “Well, I’d best get this rig out of the way, so the rest of you will have a clear shot.

    Ben said nothing, just picked up a hundred-pound sack of cornmeal and toted it to the bottom of the hill.  The other men each loaded up with supplies and carried them down while Clyde unhitched his team.  When the supplies were all piled together off to one side, the men eased what remained of the wagon down, then gathered around Larrimore to rediscuss their options.

    “There aren’t any other options,” Larrimore said, “unless we winch the wagons down.  That’s a time-consuming process, and really no guarantee of safety.  Clyde was carrying a heavy load.  That’s probably what made his wagon pick up speed.  The rest of you aren’t packing as much.”

    “You are,” McTavish pointed out.

    Lawrence nodded.  “Don’t have to tell me.  I warned Camilla about bringing so much, but she wouldn’t listen.  I may have problems, but I don’t think the rest of you will.”

    “You still think our best option is to lock the wheels and skid down, then?” Ben asked.

    “I do,” Lawrence said firmly.  “Of course, the womenfolk will be fearful, but we’ll just have to be firm with them.”

    “Aye!” McTavish snorted.  “Ye do that so well, Larrimore.  Surely, ye’ll be showing the rest of us how to manage our women.”  He spun on his heel and trudged back up to give his own wife the word.

    Lawrence winced.  “I guess I had that coming,” he admitted.  He sighed as he looked up the hill where his greatest challenge of the day stood awaiting his return.  He glanced over at Wentworth.  “Pray for me, Reverend,” he said, his face long.  “The fiery furnace was a piddling flicker compared to what I’m about to walk into.”  No one laughed at Lawrence’s dark humor.

    Since Ben would have last turn at the hill, he remained to help Clyde salvage what he could of his wagon.  He had waved Inger on down, so she sat with Nelly on a blanket spread on the grass.  Together, they watched the men cut away the damaged boards and saw the wagon in half.  Nelly shook her head sadly.  With that little room, they couldn’t even carry all their food, much less other things.  “How on earth we’ll make a living in California without Clyde’s tools, I can’t begin to guess,” she sighed.

    Inger pulled her close.  “Perhaps, if ve each carry some,” she suggested.

    Nelly turned grateful, but discerning eyes on her friend.  “They’re heavy, honey.  Who’d be willing to add that much to their load as far as we’ve got to go?”  Inger nodded.  Much as she’d like to help the Thomases, she knew it was important to be practical.

    By the time Ben and Clyde had completed the wagon conversion, Zuebner, McTavish, Payne and Wentworth had successfully skidded their wagons down Windlass Hill.  Larrimore was due down next, then Ben.  “Lawrence unloaded some things,” Wentworth told them.  “Hopefully, enough to keep the wagon from racing.”

    “How’d he talk that woman into leaving her gewgaws behind?” Clyde asked.

    “Leave them?  Not that woman!” McTavish chortled.  “Larrimore promised to carry her things down on his back if he had to.”  The others shook their heads, grateful their own wives were less demanding.

    The lightened Larrimore wagons both arrived undamaged, as did Ben’s.  Then Larrimore and his hired man, Enos Montgomery, each made four more trips on foot up and down the hill to transport the rest of Camilla’s treasures and the store stock that had been unloaded for safety’s sake.  No one offered to help.  They figured such foolishness shouldn’t be encouraged; besides, the Thomases were more in need of help.  Over Clyde’s protests, the others helped load his two-wheeled cart, then divided his extra supplies and tools amongst them.

    Ben took the anvil.  “Nothing doing, Ben,” Clyde ordered.  “You can’t pack that all the way to California.”

    “It’s your living, man,” Ben insisted.  “You’ll need it.  Besides, if Lawrence is right, I’ll only have to carry it as far as Fort Laramie.”

    “What you mean?” Clyde asked.

    “Larrimore said last year there were a number of wagons available for sale at the fort.  Some folks evidently decided to abandon theirs and pack their goods by mule to get west faster.”

    “That was last year,” Clyde sputtered.  “No guarantee anyone did the same this time out.”

    “No guarantee,” Ben agreed, “but it’s likely some did.  Anyway, we can cross that bridge once we get to it.  If you can’t get another wagon, we’ll have to leave the anvil behind, of course, but let’s hope for the best.”

    A traitorous moisture was filming Clyde’s eyes.  He brushed it away.  “We were sure lucky to throw in with folks like you,” he said.  “Some I’ve heard of would’ve just left us to stumble on as best we could.”

    “We all need each other,” Ben said.  “If this sorry week’s taught us anything, it’s that.  First the Paynes, then us, then you.  What would any of us do on this trip without good friends?”

    Clyde slapped Ben’s arm in agreement, then went to take Zuebner up on his offer to help butcher the dead ox.  When that was done, Clyde distributed the meat to everyone who had accepted any of his goods into their wagons.  “I ain’t got room for it, no how,” he said, brushing off the others’ heartfelt thanks.  “Might as well give it away as see it rot.”

    When he gave the biggest and best cuts to Ben, Ben threw his own words back in his face.  “Some I’ve heard of would’ve left the meat to rot rather than share it,” he said, winking at Clyde.

    Clyde cackled.  “Shucks, Ben, this ain’t so much a gift as a hint for an invite to supper.”  Ben laughed and extended the invitation.

    It was getting late, and the train was still three miles from Ash Hollow, but everyone wanted to push ahead that far.  They limped into their destination just as the sun was sinking on the western horizon and hurried to set up camp.  The men didn’t even bother discussing whether they’d travel tomorrow or observe the Sabbath.  They were all too exhausted after the last few harrowing days to think of anything but sleep and rest.  Without discussion, they instinctively knew they’d remain encamped until Monday morning.  Like the Lord after a busy week of creation, they’d rest on the seventh day and call it good.

    When the emigrants awoke Sunday morning, they rejoiced in the pleasant vista that met their eyes.  With the summer sun already hot overhead, they reveled in the first real shade they’d seen in weeks, even if it was only provided by stunted ash and a few red cedars.  Actually, the canyon itself gave more shade than the trees, as high, perpendicular cliffs on both sides of the narrow ravine cast refreshing shadows.  A little brooklet babbling through its sandy bottom gave the women the chance for a genuine washday.  Not since Plum Creek had they seen a campsite more congenial.

    While the women scrubbed vigorously through piles of dirty laundry, the men wandered through the ravine exploring.  Play being more enticing than work, most of the children scampered after their fathers rather than staying behind to rinse out clothes for their mothers.  Adam tagged happily along with Ben as he visited the landmark that marked the entrance to Ash Hollow, a log cabin to the left of the trail that had been erected years before by some trappers caught in winter snows.  The youngster found that history mildly interesting; but he was utterly fascinated by the messages scrawled, inside and out, on the walls of the cabin.  No longer needed for shelter, the cabin now served as a kind of general post office for those in the vanguard of the army of emigrants to leave messages for those behind.

    Adam made a slow circuit of the inside walls, pleased with how many of the inscriptions he could read.  He stumbled over some of the harder words, but as long as the messages were printed, he usually managed to get the gist of them.  Some advertised for the return of lost cattle, probably a futile request considering the distances involved; others offered directions or suggestions to ease the way for those who came later.  One Adam read warned that the only way to reach California before winter was to abandon the oxen and all nonessential gear and use mules to pack what was needed for survival.  Adam frowned.  No one in their party had any mules.  How could they possibly follow this advice?  He ran over to his father to ask if it was good advice.

    Sitting on the dirt floor, Ben looked up from the pile of letters he had pulled from a barrel set in a corner.  “Not for us, Adam,” he said.  “That was meant mostly for men in a hurry to reach gold country who were traveling by themselves.  A family needs a wagon.”

    “Oh,” Adam said and squatted down next to his father.  “What you got there, Pa?”

    “Letters, just letters, son,” Ben said.  “I don’t even know why I’m sorting through them.  Curiosity, I guess.  The sign on the barrel asks for the letters to be conveyed to the nearest Government post office, but we’re all going the wrong way for that.  I doubt many of these missives ever reach the persons they were written to.”

    “That’s kind of sad,” Adam said.

    Ben tickled the boy’s ribs through his brown plaid shirt.  “Yeah, it is, and I’ve had about enough of it.”  He decided, though, to look through the letters in his lap before he tossed them back in the barrel.  Suddenly, his eyes brightened.  “Adam!  Look at this, son!”  He held the envelope up for Adam to see.

    “I can’t read writing, Pa,” Adam protested, “just printing.”

    “Oh, yeah,” Ben laughed.  “I forgot.  Well, son, it so happens this letter is gonna reach the person it’s addressed to.”

    “Yeah?” Adam chirped.  “Who’s that, Pa?”

    “Mr. Benjamin Cartwright!  That’s how it reads,” Ben announced.  “Now, what do you think of that, Adam Cartwright?”

    The excitement on Adam’s face was answer enough.  “Who’s it from, Pa?” he asked eagerly.

    Ben chuckled.  “Now, who do you think, boy?  Who do we know that’s been on the trail before us?”

    Adam grinned.  “Uncle John?”

    Ben nodded.  “Let’s go show Mama, shall we?”

    “Yeah, let’s!” Adam shouted.  “Boy, will she be surprised!”

    Flapping the envelope in the air, Ben raced toward the brook, with Adam trailing behind.  “Inger, hey, Inger!” he called.

    Red-faced and sweating, Inger looked up and wiped a damp lock of blonde hair from her forehead with a raw, soapy hand.  “Just what I need——helpers!” she called back.  The other women pounding clothes in the stream just laughed.  They knew none of them had a prayer of getting help with this job from the male contingent of their community.

    Heedless of the hint, Ben charged up and dropped down next to his wife.  “Leave off rubbing that dress, Inger Cartwright, and listen to what your brother-in-law has to say!”

    Inger dropped her washboard at once.  “My what?”  Ben held the envelope beneath her nose so she could read the address.  “But how?” Inger asked.

    Ben explained about the cache of letters in the trappers’ old cabin.  “And there was one from John?  Oh, how exciting, Ben!” Inger said.  “Read it at once.”  The other ladies stopped scrubbing to listen, too.  The idea of anyone hearing from a loved one out here was too delightful for them to worry about whether it was ill-mannered to listen in.

    As Adam plopped down in his father’s lap, Ben gave him a welcoming squeeze and wrestled the letter from its container with one hand.  “‘Dear Ben, Inger and Adam,’” he read, “‘Not knowing if this will ever reach you, I feel foolish to write, but couldn’t resist the chance.  We’ve made good progress since leaving Ft. Kearny and until last week had avoided the cholera.  Plenty of parties we’ve passed have been hit hard, though.  Some men had been left to die alone in their last hours, but we could not be so heartless.  We took three men with us who had been cast out by their mates, but they soon died.  Perhaps, it was they who brought the disease to our camp, but though we have suffered, none of us regret taking in these helpless creatures.  So far, I remain in good health; I hope my luck holds out.’”

    “It did!” Adam exclaimed.  “Uncle John never got cholera, did he, Pa?”

    “No, son, he didn’t,” Ben replied.  “Now, let Pa finish the letter.”  Adam snuggled against his father’s chest and Ben pressed a kiss on top of his head to let Adam know his unspoken apology was accepted.

    “‘I wish I knew more to tell you about the trail ahead,’” Ben continued, “‘but I’m a greenhorn in these parts and so are my companions.  You’ll find a small Sioux village at the mouth of this ravine, an interesting place to visit and good folks to trade with.  You might leave Inger behind, though, as some of the men make a practice of going about in the altogether, and the others don’t wear much more.’”

    Downstream, Camilla Larrimore tittered, then covered her mouth, embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping.  “Sorry, Ben,” she giggled.

    Ben smiled.  “There’s not much more to hear, I’m afraid, ladies.  My brother just sends us his best wishes and renews his pledge to meet us in San Francisco on our arrival.”

    “How nice that you have someone waiting,” Martha Wentworth called as she rubbed Ebenezer’s best white Sunday shirt against her washboard.  “And how wonderful to hear from him so unexpectedly.”

    “Shall ve go trade this afternoon, Ben?” Inger asked.

    “If by ‘we,’ you mean me and Adam, yes,” Ben replied with an arched eyebrow, “but if you meant yourself, the answer is no.  I’ll not have my wife watching wild bucks parade around ‘buck’ naked.”

    Inger gave him an impish smile.  “I’ve already had skinny-dipping boys parade before me.  I doubt Indians look much different.”

    “Oh, Inger, how can you?” Camilla shrieked.  “I’d be mortified to see a naked Indian!”

    “She’s teasing, Camilla,” Rachel laughed.

    “Well, I should hope so!” Camilla declared indignantly.

    “Yah, I am,” Inger assured her, “but Ben must promise to bring back something interesting.”

    “Like some buckskin, maybe?” Ben jibed and ducked as Inger tossed her wet dress at him.

    Adam wanted to head for the Sioux village that instant, but his mother insisted after lunch would be soon enough.  Adam didn’t think so, but he finally decided he might as well eat plenty.  It was obvious Pa intended to fill his belly full before they could leave, anyway.

    The youngster, his arms pimply with gooseflesh at the thought of seeing a real Indian village, romped along beside his father.  He nearly burst with excitement when he saw the conical lodges of tanned buffalo skin and the tall, graceful men and women walking toward them.  Like Uncle John had said, some of the men were stripped bare, and some had only a blanket around their waists, but the women wore beautiful dresses of tanned buffalo skins, decorated with colorful glass beads like the ones they’d brought to trade.

    The Indians soon let them know by signs that they weren’t interested in beads.  Evidently, enough emigrants had passed before this party that they had plenty of those, but one naked buck plucked repeatedly at Ben’s shirt until the white man understood what he wanted.  Ben felt ashamed to give the man what was probably the most worn garment he possessed, his better shirts being laundered at the time.  Yet the shirt clearly represented luxury to the Sioux warrior, so Ben pulled it off in exchange for the fresh fish the Indian offered.  He had a feeling fish wasn’t what Inger had meant by “something interesting,” but it seemed to be the best trade he could make.

    If Inger was less than thrilled with the opportunity to fry trout for supper, she didn’t show it.  They’d had mostly salt pork or bacon the previous week, so anything fresh was appreciated.  Besides, fish cooked quickly, and supper needed to be quick tonight.  In order to take advantage of the opportunity to do their laundry, the ladies had suggested having the worship service in the evening, and Martha Wentworth had conveyed the message to an agreeable husband.  At home, he wouldn’t have approved of such labor on the Sabbath, but out here even staid and stern Ebenezer Wentworth bowed to the necessity of a convenient stream.  Besides, he’d had no clean shirts left in which to preach.


Inger woke with a frown on her face and an unsettled feeling in her stomach.  Something seemed wrong, but she wasn’t sure what.  Next to her, Ben stirred uneasily and sat up.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

    “I don’t know,” Inger whispered.  “Something voke me.”

    “Yeah, me, too,” Ben said.  Then, a mournful cry pierced through the thin walls of their tent.  That was what he’d heard before, Ben suddenly realized, that sharp sound like an animal in pain.  “Stay here,” he ordered Inger.  “I’ll see what’s up.”

    Not stopping to pull on his boots, Ben crawled outside and stumbled in his stocking feet toward the source of the sound.  His face tightened when he realized it was coming from the tent next to theirs.  “Clyde?” he called through the canvas.  “Anything wrong?”

    Clyde Thomas, his face haggard, peered through the opening of his tent.  “It’s Bobby,” he croaked hoarsely.

    “He didn’t take off again?” Ben asked.

    Clyde shook his head.  “No, no.  Wish it was that simple.  He’s sick, Ben, bad sick.  Nelly’s scared it might be the cholera.  You ever seen a case?”

    “Inger more than me,” Ben explained.  “You want her to take a look at the lad?”

    “I’d appreciate it.”  Ben nodded and hurried back to his own tent.  “Get dressed quick,” he told Inger.  “Bobby Thomas is sick; his folks want you to see if it looks like cholera.”

    The color drained from Inger’s face.  “Cholera!  Oh, Ben, I pray not!”  She pulled on her blue and rose print blouse and fastened it so hastily she missed the third button, but she didn’t notice that then.  She fastened her shoes loosely and hurried out.

    When Inger entered the Thomas tent, she saw immediately that Bobby was very ill, indeed.  She instinctively laid her slender hand against his cheek.  The little boy moaned.  “Oh, poor little one,” Inger murmured.  “So cold you are!”

    “He’s been switchin’ back and forth ‘twixt freezing and burning up,” Nelly whispered.  “I reckon it could be the ague, but he seems sicker than that.”

    “Has he had any diarrhea or vomiting?” Inger asked.

    “Diarrhea real bad,” Nelly said, “but he ain’t retched none yet.  To get so sick so fast——is it the cholera, Inger?  Ben said you’d seen it before.”

    “Yah, in St. Joe,” Inger said and looked sadly into the eyes of the worried mother.  “This looks much the same, Nelly, and ve know it is around us.”

    “Merciful God,” Nelly cried, burying her face in her hands.  “I knew it; I knew!”

    Inger folded the older woman in her arms, but Nelly pushed her away.  “You get on out of here, Inger Cartwright,” she dictated.  “You can’t risk exposin’ yourself now; think of your baby, honey.  I shouldn’t have let Clyde send for you, but I was hopin’ it wasn’t what I feared.”

    “I am not afraid,” Inger said soothingly.  “I nursed a young friend vith cholera in St. Joe and came to no harm.  I can help you vith Bobby.”

    Nelly shook her head emphatically.  “Make her see reason, Ben,” she pleaded.

    Ben took a firm grasp of Inger’s arm.  “It’s best, Inger; come with me.”

    Inger started to argue, but Ben looked so firm, she knew nothing would dissuade him.  “Let me take Billy, at least,” she offered, “and I vill fix breakfast for everyone at my fire.”

    Nelly smiled.  “Sure, honey; that’d be a blessing.  Billy, you go on with Mrs. Cartwright now, and mind everything she says, you hear.”

    “Yes’m,” Billy said with unusually quiet compliance.  While Inger started breakfast, Billy crawled into the Cartwright tent and woke Adam.

    Adam yawned wide and rubbed his eyes.  “What you doin’ here?” he demanded.

    “Bobby’s sick,” Billy whispered, “and Ma threw me out.”

    “Oh,” Adam said and sat up.  “He got the runs again?”  Like all the other emigrants, Adam had accepted regular bouts with dysentery as a fact of trail life.

    Billy’s rusty freckles stood out against the unaccustomed paleness of his cheeks as he wagged his head back and forth.  “Unh-uh.  Your ma says it’s the cholera.”

    Adam’s eyes jerked wide.  “That’s bad,” he said.  “My friend Jamie had that; he nearly died.”  It was obvious from the look on Billy’s face, though, that he didn’t need Adam’s testimony to tell him his little brother was in danger.  He’d already read that message in the anxious eyes of his parents.

    While Inger started the breakfast coffee, Ben moved forward to talk with Larrimore.  “You sure it’s cholera?” Lawrence asked.

    “Not positive,” Ben replied, “but it’s more than dysentery.”

    “Who else is sick?” Jonathan Payne asked as he walked up.

    “What do you mean, ‘who else,?’” Larrimore demanded.

    Jonathan looked grim.  “My Johnny,” he said tautly.  “I was just coming to tell you.  Looks bad to me.”

    Ben shuddered involuntarily.  They’d all stayed in basically good health for so long that they’d hoped to be spared this greatest danger of the trail.  Had their luck finally run out?  As word of the sick boys spread through the camp, the men gathered purposefully around the Larrimore wagon.

    “We’ll have to leave the sick wagons behind,” McTavish stated bluntly.

    “We can’t do that!” Ben sputtered.  “It’s inhuman to abandon anyone out here, especially those too weak to care for themselves.”

    “The bairns have their parents to care for them,” McTavish snapped, “and you’ve no right to ask the rest of us to risk our families.”

    “I’m not asking more than I’m willing to do,” Ben said.

    “Aye, ye are,” McTavish snorted.  “Your boy plays with them others all the time; he’ll likely be next, anyway.”

    Ben gasped, whether from outrage or fear, he couldn’t say.

    “That’s enough,” Larrimore ordered.  “We’ve faced our problems together so far, and I’m for sticking together.  Who knows who’ll take sick next?  There’s no running from cholera, McTavish.”

    “But if we stay away from the sick, we have better chance,” Zuebner said.  “I don’t say leave them, but maybe keep some distance, you think?”

    Larrimore looked at Ben, as if seeking guidance, but Ben didn’t feel comfortable saying more than he already had.  “It’s probably wise to separate the sick from the healthy, as much as possible,” Lawrence decided slowly, “but I won’t be party to abandoning them.  Payne, why don’t you and the Thomases start about a half hour after we break camp?  That way you’ll still be close enough to get word to us if you have problems with your wagons.”

    Payne nodded soberly.  “That sounds fair——even kind.  We don’t want to spread this sickness, but we’d sure appreciate having someone close by, especially if we sight Indians.  They’ve been friendly enough so far, but there’s safety in numbers.”

    “Everyone agreed?” Larrimore asked.

    “Yeah,” Ben said, and his assent was echoed by Thomas, Zuebner and Wentworth.  McTavish stalked away without saying anything.

    As the others drifted back to their wagons for breakfast, Wentworth remained behind.  “Mr. Larrimore,” he said quietly, “my wife and I would like to travel with the Paynes and the Thomases.  We might be of some use to them.”

    Lawrence looked up sharply.  “You should check with Martha before you make such an offer.”

    Shaking his head, Wentworth smiled.  “No need.  Martha and I have always been of one mind when it comes to serving the needy.”

    Lawrence reddened.  “You put us all to shame, Reverend.”

    “Not my intent,” Ebenezer said as he turned to leave.

    The minister was not the only one whose thoughts turned to helping the families with ailing members.  When Inger heard that the two wagons were to be separated from the main party, she suggested that she and Ben join the smaller group.  “Three vagons vill be safer than two,” she insisted.

    “Not this time, Inger,” Ben said.  “I don’t like it any better than you, but I won’t put you at risk, not with your time so close.”

    “But, Ben—”

    “No!” Ben declared.  “Not another word, Inger Cartwright.  There’s Adam to think of, too, if you don’t care for yourself or our unborn child.”

    Tears filled Inger’s eyes.  “Oh, Ben, how can you?” she whimpered and went to hide in the tent until she could get her emotions under control.  She stretched out on the blankets and buried her face in them.  Why couldn’t Ben understand?  Of course, she wanted to protect Adam and the little son she hoped to give him, but to stand by when others were in need without offering a hand to help put such an ache in her heart she didn’t think she could bear it.

    “Inger,” Ben whispered through the tent opening.  “May I come in?”  Without looking at her husband, Inger nodded.  Ben crawled slowly to her side and lay down beside her.  “Please don’t cry, sweetheart,” he soothed.  “I know you have a heart tender enough to take in the whole world, but that’s why sometimes you need me——to protect you from yourself.”

    Inger turned and let Ben encircle her with his strong arms.  “I know, Ben, but it hurts.”

    “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said and just held her, stroking the hair she had hastily pinned up earlier.

    The gesture made Inger laugh.  “I must look a fright,” she said, “and you are making it worse.”  For the first time she noticed she had not buttoned herself properly and her fingers moved to rectify the mistake.  “Vatch the bacon for me, Ben, while I put myself straight.”

    Ben kissed her.  “You look beautiful to me, but I’ll watch the bacon.”  Feeling forgiven, he slipped outside to tend to breakfast.  He had just lifted the final strip of bacon from the skillet when he saw the McTavish wagon rumble past and out onto the trail.

    Ben’s jaw hardened.  For the first time a member of their party had defied the decision of the majority and gone off on his own.  Ben knew it was a common thing on the trail for trains to split apart, for individual wagons to separate and join with another party heading west.  He’d been proud to think their group possessed more sense of community than those others, however, and this sudden breach disheartened him.

    The healthy members of the Larrimore party headed out immediately after breakfast; the other three wagons followed, keeping about a mile between them and the four in the lead.  They pulled a little closer at the noon stop to water the stock in the nearby creek, but still maintained a discreet distance.

    As Inger stirred the rice she was cooking with salt pork for flavoring, she gazed longingly at the wagons of her friends.  Ben brushed a tear from her cheek.  “The pork makes the rice salty enough without your adding these,” he said softly.

    Inger gave him a weak smile and took a step back from the pot.  “Better?” she asked, but her heart obviously wasn’t in her attempt at humor.  She glanced over at Billy Thomas who had flopped down next to their wagon when Adam crawled beneath it to scribble in his journal.  Here, at least, was someone she could help.  She squatted next to him and brushed his red hair.  “Lunch vill be ready soon, Billy.”

    “I ain’t hungry,” Billy muttered.

    Inger gave him a sympathetic look.  “Don’t vorry about your brother, Billy.  Your mama is looking out for him.”

    “I ain’t worried,” Billy said gruffly.  Inger looked puzzled.  Billy wasn’t the best-mannered boy in the world, but he had always been more mischievous than mean.  Today, though, he sounded mad at the world.  Despite his words, Inger was sure he must be worried about little Bobby.  Surely, that explained his irritability.

    An instant later her mother’s instinct challenged that conclusion.  She stopped brushing the boy’s hair and let her hand rest on his forehead.  Feeling his flesh burn against her palm, Inger understood why Billy had seemed so listless as he’d dragged along beside Adam that morning.  He wasn’t just worried about Bobby; he was sick himself.

    Inger stood up and stepped close to Ben.  “Ben, I think Billy is not vell.  I vant to take him back to his mother.”

    Concern flickered in Ben’s eyes as he looked at Billy.  “I’ll take him,” he said.

    “No, Ben,” Inger insisted.  “I vant to go.”

    Ben took her in his arms.  “Now, sweetheart, we’ve already discussed—”

    “Yah, I know,” Inger interrupted sharply, “but you did not listen much.  I vant to take Billy home, Ben.”

    Ben looked steadily into her purposeful face.  He couldn’t say no again; he just couldn’t.  “All right, but don’t stay long, please, Inger.”

    “I vill not,” she promised.  Walking back to the wagon, she reached for Billy’s hand.  “Come, Billy.  Let us go see your mama.”  Billy scrambled up and took Inger’s extended hand without a word.  Together, they walked toward the small encampment of quarantined wagons.

    Nelly frowned as she saw Inger heading her way with Billy at her side.  Then she sighed.  Likely, Billy’d been giving trouble, and the Cartwrights had had their fill of him.  Why, today of all days, did he have to play the pest?  Today, when she needed to focus all her attention on her suffering four-year-old.  “What’s he done?” she asked wearily when Inger came close.

    Inger shook her head and laid her finger across her lips to silence Nelly before she said words she’d regret.  With sad eyes she looked into her friend’s face.  “I think Billy is sick, too,” she whispered.

    Nelly paled as she stooped to examine her older son.  “Oh, merciful heavens,” she cried.  “Not both of them.”

    Inger helped her settle Billy inside the wagon, then wandered over to see the Paynes.  “How is Johnny?” she asked.

    “Fretful,” Rachel said wearily.  “He was up half the night, and he still can’t rest.”

    “May I see him?” Inger asked.

    “If you’re not scared to,” Rachel said.

    Inger said nothing, just climbed into the wagon and sat down next to the boy whose features reminded her so much of Jamie Edwards.  She started to croon the soft Swedish lullaby Jamie had found soothing during his illness and smiled as she saw Johnny’s eyes grow heavy and close in sleep.

    “You’re a wonder, Inger,” Rachel whispered.  “I’ve sung myself hoarse, but nothing seemed to comfort him.”

    Inger laughed softly.  “Maybe it’s like bread,” she said.  “My mother used to say the bread of another country alvays tastes better than your own.”

    “I’d like to try Swedish bread sometime,” Rachel said.

    “Yah, someday, when this terrible time is past, ve vill visit in each other’s homes and taste each other’s bread,” Inger said dreamily.

    “Someday,” Rachel said, and in her heart it was a promise.

    Inger crept quietly from the wagon so as not to wake Johnny.  “I must get back,” she said.  “I promised Ben I vould not stay long.”

    Rachel gave her a hug.  “I understand.  Take care, Inger.”  Watching the Swedish woman walk back to her own camp, Rachel smiled.  She hoped Inger would follow that advice.  What would any of them do without her gentle influence?

* * * * *

    After feeding her family at noon the following day, Inger wandered down to the cholera camp.  Ben had finally decided his wife was determined to worry herself sick if she didn’t know how the others were doing; therefore, it would be safer in the long run to let her pay a brief visit.  The first person Inger saw was Martha Wentworth.  “How is everyone?” Inger asked.

    Martha gave her an affectionate embrace.  “Holding their own, I guess.  No new cases, thank the Lord.”

    “That is good,” Inger agreed.  “Perhaps ve did vell to separate the vagons.”

    Hearing Inger’s soft accent, Nelly emerged from her wagon.  “Inger Cartwright, you’re incorrigible,” Nelly chided.

    “Like Billy?” Inger laughed.  But Nelly, who had always been quick to make sport of the antics of her eldest, didn’t respond to Inger’s teasing.  Instead, she just looked sadly toward the wagon.

    “Are the boys worse?” Inger asked, sorry now that she had spoken so lightly.

    Nelly turned a strained face toward Inger.  “I don’t know, honey.  Bobby seems about the same, but he was bad off yesterday.  Billy’s probably a little worse, but he seems took kind of mild, compared to his baby brother.”

    “I don’t think Billy’s in any danger,” Martha said, “but he’s sure not his feisty little self, either.”

    “I wish he was being a pure nuisance, like usual,” Nelly said, the words tight in her throat.  Hearing her son call, Nelly patted Inger’s arm and crawled back in the wagon.  “Mama’s here, Billy sugar,” she called.

    Martha took Inger by the arm and steered her aside.  “I’m concerned about Nelly,” she said.  “She looks peaked to me.”

    “Perhaps she is just worn down vith caring for the boys,” Inger suggested.

    Martha didn’t look convinced.  “Maybe,” she said, “but I’m afraid she’s coming down sick herself.  Keep her in your prayers, my dear.”

    “Yah, I vill,” Inger promised.  She paid a brief visit to the Payne wagon and soothed restless Johnny to sleep again with her Swedish song.  Then it was time to reload the wagons and move onto the trail again.  They were moving along the sandy south bank of the North Platte now, but across the wide river the opposite shore looked even more barren.  The only green to be seen was on the numerous little islands in the midst of the river——a bleak, lifeless landscape that matched the terrain of their thoughts.

    The trek seemed more tiring today than it had before.  Ben said that was because they were climbing now; and while the uphill grade was slight, it was constant, giving their legs little opportunity for rest.  But Inger thought they felt tired because their hearts were heavy, pulled down by a force greater than gravity, fear for the friends below them on the trail.

    Inger got the evening campfire burning bright, then turned to see Adam leaning against the rear wheel of the wagon staring at the wagons camped a mile behind them.  “Now vould be a good time to do your lessons,” she said, hoping to distract him.

    “Do I have to?” Adam asked.  “I don’t feel like reading right now.”

    Inger smiled.  “You can have a day off if you like, Adam.  I am sure your teacher vould understand.”  Adam nodded and kicked at the wagon wheel.  Inger folded him into her arms.  “You are vorried about your friends?”

    Adam nodded.  “And you and Pa,” he added.

    Inger kissed the top of his head.  “Your father and I are fine,” she said, “and ve plan to stay fine.”

    Ben came back from watering the stock and sniffed appreciatively at the steaming pot.  “Ah, smells good,” he said.

    Inger stood and shook her head.  “Smells like salt pork again to me,” she said.

    Ben grinned.  “Oh, well, hunger makes the best sauce, I’ve always heard.  What do you say, Adam?  Salt pork sound good tonight?”

    Adam shook his head.  “I ain’t real hungry,” he muttered and wandered off.

    Ben’s brow furrowed.  “Now, what’s bothering him?”

    “Worried about his friends, I think,” Inger said.

    But Adam’s loss of appetite was not due to sympathetic concern for his friends, as his parents discovered late that night.  It was pitch dark when Inger was awakened by a small, hot body pressing against her back.  She heard a soft voice whimpering “Mama,” and her eyes snapped open.  “Yes, Adam, what is it?” she whispered, hoping not to waken Ben.

    “My stomach hurts, Mama,” Adam moaned.  “Real bad.”

    Inger turned at once and opened her arms.  Adam crawled into her embrace and lay trembling against her side.  Inger reached out to touch his cheek and pulled her hand back quickly when she felt how warm he was.  “Ben, Ben, wake up,” she cried urgently.

    Ben’s brown eyes opened.  “What is it?” he yawned.  “It’s not morning yet.”

    “Adam is sick,” Inger whispered.

    Ben bolted upright and reached cross Inger to feel Adam’s forehead.  “Oh, no,” he murmured.  “Dear God, no.”

    “His stomach is cramping,” Inger said.  “I think ve should give him some laudanum.”

    “I’ll get it,” Ben said and hurried to the wagon for their box of medicines.  He returned to find Inger cleaning Adam’s bottom.  The boy was lying in an ill-smelling brown puddle.  “Diarrhea?” Ben asked, knowing what that likely meant.  Inger nodded gravely.

    Ben spooned a dose of laudanum into his son’s mouth.  It seemed to quiet the boy’s bowels, but the fever continued to rise, alternating with body-shaking chills.  By morning their fears were confirmed, and they pulled their wagon into line with those of the other stricken families.

    Inger rode inside the wagon with Adam, trying to lower his temperature by sponging his hot little body.  The lukewarm water didn’t cool him much, however.  As she wiped the damp cloth over his face and chest, she tried to soothe him to sleep with her Swedish lullaby.  It didn’t work the same magic on him that it had on Jamie or Johnny Payne, however, and Inger found herself remembering her mother’s remark about bread of another country.  Maybe if Rachel sang to Adam?  Inger shook her head to dislodge the silly thought.  Adam was too sick to find solace in anyone’s song.

    Looking down, she saw tears staining the boy’s face.  “Does your stomach hurt badly, my sweet?” she asked tenderly.

    Adam nodded.  “I—I guess God’s real mad at us, huh, Mama.”

    Inger stared, wide-eyed, at the little boy’s taut features.  “No, Adam, of course not.  Why vould He be?”

    “We traveled when we shouldn’t,” Adam said soberly.  “I guess God’s punishing us for that, huh?”

    Inger pressed his hot cheeks between her hands.  “No, Adam.  He is not.”

    “But the preacher said—”

    “The preacher is wrong,” Inger said firmly.  “Do not trouble yourself, sweet boy.  God has not made you sick because ve traveled on Sunday.”  Adam stared quietly into her face, but it was obvious from his tormented expression that he remained unconvinced.

    When they stopped at noon, Inger climbed out of the wagon to share Adam’s concern with Ben.  She found him staring ahead on the trail.  “What is it?” she asked.

    Ben sighed.  “Looks like we’ve got more company.”

    Shading her eyes, Inger followed his line of sight.  “Oh, no,” she moaned mournfully.  “The Zuebners.”  She and Ben walked forward to meet the wagon.  “You have sickness, too?” Inger asked.

    Fredrich nodded soberly.  “Is Katerina.  She seem all right this morning, but now very sick.”

    “I’ll see how she’s doing,” Inger offered.  Before she climbed into the Zuebner wagon, though, she told Ben what was worrying Adam.  “Perhaps, if Reverend Ventvorth spoke to him,” she suggested.

    “I’ll ask,” Ben assured her.

    The minister was already on his way to meet the new members of their growing community.  After telling the Zuebner’s news, Ben explained briefly about Adam’s fear of divine retribution.  “If you could speak to him, assure him the Almighty is not angered,” Ben said, “I’d be much obliged.”

    Ebenezer Wentworth gazed sorrowfully into Ben’s face.  “How can I, Mr. Cartwright?  I tried to warn you—”

    “Now, wait a minute,” Ben exploded.  “You’re not saying God poured out this curse on us for breaking the Sabbath!”

    Ebenezer laid a conciliatory hand on Ben’s shoulder, but Ben flung it off.  “Please, my friend,” the minister said. “I have no wish to add to your pain, but there are consequences of disobedience.  Much as I regret it, I’m afraid this wagon train is reaping the seeds it sowed.”

    “Twice!” Ben yelled.  “Twice we traveled on Sunday.  How can you say—”

    “Twice you listened to the voice of circumstance instead of the voice of God,” Wentworth declared, his voice rising in response to Ben’s heated words.  “When you did keep God’s holy day, it was because it was convenient, not because you repented for the other times.  It seems as though only your innocent child took my warnings to heart.  I will gladly assure him that he is not personally responsible for this tragedy, of course, but I will not damage his soul by telling him a falsehood.”

    Ben pulled his arm back to take a swing at the minister’s jaw, but Zuebner grabbed his arm.  “No, Ben,” he protested.  “He is a man of God!”

    Ben spat.  “Man of God!  Man without a heart,” he blurted out and turned away.  An agonized Wentworth started to follow, but Zuebner held him back, shaking his head.  He may not have had the reverend’s spiritual knowledge, but he was wise in the ways of people.  He knew in his heart Ben could not contain his rage if Wentworth said one more word.

    As the wagons limped along that afternoon, more and more distance stretched between them and the two Larrimore wagons remaining in the lead.  As the sick weakened, it became necessary to stop more often to empty pails of vomit or draw water to cool fevered brows.  By traveling late, though, the stragglers caught up and made camp near their captain.

    Lawrence came back to check on the condition of the others in the train.  What he found disturbed him.  Billy Thomas seemed better, but he was the only one who showed improvement.  His brother Bobby was desperately ill, and their mother had finally collapsed, stricken with cholera herself.  Clyde remained well, but worn out from caring for the sick members of his family.

    Johnny Payne was weak, cold and clammy to the touch, but so far the rest of his family was in good health.  Adam Cartwright was raving deliriously, his body shaken by intermittent convulsions, while Katerina Zuebner lay listless, her delicate face drawn and white.  Only the Wentworth family was untouched by illness, seeming to validate the minister’s belief that the cholera had been sent as recompense for their sins.

    After his survey, Lawrence stopped by the Cartwright wagon.  “I don’t see much point in keeping the train separated any longer,” he said.  “I’m not sure we aren’t already coming down with this plague ourselves.”

    “You feeling poorly?” Ben asked, concerned.

    Lawrence shrugged.  “Not sure.  My head aches something fierce, but that could just be the strain, I guess.  Camilla’s been a mite queasy this afternoon.  Sick or not, I think we’d feel safer if we were closer to you others, though; so you might as well leave at seven tomorrow, same as us.”

    Ben nodded.  “All right.  We’ll keep a little space, but not a full mile.”  He crawled into his tent, where Inger lay holding Adam in her arms.  “Let me watch the boy awhile,” he said.

    “All right,” Inger replied and, easing Adam down, sat up.  “It’s time I started supper, I guess.”

    “Don’t bother,” Ben said, “unless you’re hungry.”

    “You must eat, Ben,” Inger urged.  “Starving yourself vill not help Adam.”

    “Eating won’t help him either,” Ben said pointedly.  “I can open a tin of sardines if I get hungry later, Inger.  I just don’t see the use of tiring yourself out cooking when no one’s got an appetite.”

    Inger sighed.  “Yah, I have no appetite, either.  I vill make some coffee, though.”

    Ben smiled.  “That’d be good.”  As Inger left, he gathered his son into his arms and held him close until the boy stopped shaking.  The chill past, Adam grew warm again and started to babble something about Chimney Rock.  “I wanted see it,” he slurred.

    Ben’s arms tightened around the child.  “You will, Adam; you will,” he reassured him.  “Pa promises.  You’re gonna see Chimney Rock, and Fort Laramie and Independence Rock and—”  Ben’s voice broke in a guttural sob, and his tears soaked the boy’s black hair.

    Hearing voices outside the tent later, Ben emerged, and his visage darkened when he saw Martha Wentworth.  “Oh, hello, Mr. Cartwright,” Martha said.  “I was just telling Inger that little Johnny is having a hard time getting to sleep again.  His mother thought perhaps Inger could come sing to him a bit.  I’d be glad to sit with Adam.”

    “You get away from my family,” Ben demanded.  Martha blanched at his angry tone.

    “Ben!” Inger said, shocked.  “You have no need to speak to Martha that vay.”

    “Why?  Are her feelings different from her husband’s?” Ben sputtered.

    “I don’t know, Ben,” Inger said.  “I only know Martha has come to ask help for a friend.  Vould you punish Johnny because you are angry vith Reverend Ventvorth?”

    Ben folded his arms.  “No, of course not.  Go sing to Johnny whenever you like, but we don’t need help from the Wentworths.  I can see to Adam.”

    “I’ll tell Rachel you’ll be down soon,” Martha said quietly.  “I’m sorry, Inger; I meant no offense.”

    “You gave none,” Inger assured her.  When Martha was gone, Inger, arms akimbo, turned flashing eyes on her husband.  “How could you, Ben?  She has shown us nothing but kindness.”

    “You weren’t there; you didn’t see the self-righteous arrogance on that man’s face,” Ben snapped.

    “No, I did not,” Inger retorted, “but I doubt he looked much more ‘holier than thou’ than you do right now!”

    Ben bit his tongue to stop the acidic words he felt forming.  He didn’t want to quarrel with Inger.  He wasn’t angry with her——or with Martha Wentworth, for that matter.  His anger was directed at Wentworth himself, and maybe——if the minister’s prophecies of doom came to pass——just maybe, at Wentworth’s god.

    Neither Ben nor Inger slept much that night, for Adam’s temperature continued to rise, and he jerked again and again with the convulsions of his fevered brain.  As Ben rocked the boy back and forth, back and forth, his frantic prayers ascended heavenward; and Inger’s quieter pleas sought aid from the same Protector.

    Just as dawn broke, so did Adam’s fever and the boy lay limp in his father’s arms.  The weary parents rejoiced, hoping he had passed the crisis; but Adam seemed so weak they couldn’t be sure.  Inger thought how strange it would be if her sturdy Adam succumbed to the disease frail Jamie had survived.  But she knew it could happen; cholera knew no respect of persons.

    Still, she and Ben felt relieved as they left their tent that morning to prepare and eat a hurried breakfast.  They encouraged one another with assurances that Adam would soon be better, but their hope shriveled when they heard that Johnny Payne had slipped away in the night.

    Inger immediately ran to her friend’s wagon to offer her help in preparing the body for burial, but she found Martha Wentworth already there gently washing the small, cold form.  “Go to Rachel; she needs you,” Martha whispered.  Inger nodded and went to enclose Rachel in a comforting embrace.  “He was such a good boy,” Rachel wept, “such a sweet, good boy.”  Inger held her tighter and mingled her tears with those of the disconsolate mother.

    Throughout the burial, Inger supported Rachel in her arms, for her friend seemed barely able to stand upright.  Then, as the Reverend Wentworth said the final amen, Rachel collapsed.  At first, everyone thought her pained heart had left her prostrate, but an anguished Jonathan informed them she had been feeling weak the previous day.  Before heading out on the trail, they realized Rachel had fallen victim to the disease that had just taken her son’s life.

    The emigrants plodded forward step by weary step through a long day.  No one felt any enjoyment in the journey now; no one looked hopefully toward the western horizon; no one had any expectation they’d ever reach their destination.  All anyone felt was a heaviness that made each step a struggle, each breath a burden.  No one wanted to go forward, but what else was there to do?

    As they set up camp that evening, the still air was shattered by the sound of sobs from the wagon beside the Cartwrights.  Almost knowing without asking, Ben walked slowly over to Clyde Thomas, who had just climbed out the back of his wagon.  “Bobby?” Ben asked when he saw the tears streaking Clyde’s haggard face.  Clyde nodded without a word.

    Ben called to Inger, who ran to her friend’s side.  Nelly lay next to her child, stroking his golden hair with a feeble hand.  “Why, Inger?” she sobbed.  “Why?  He was always such a little angel.  Why would God take him?”

    Inger took the little boy in her arms and cradled him against her breast as her tears flowed freely.  “I don’t know, Nelly; perhaps heaven vas an angel short.  Oh, I yoost don’t know!”  Heart-broken as if little Bobby had been her own child, Inger wept; and though Nelly was too weak to say so then, she took comfort in knowing her child was resting in loving arms.

    As another small body was laid to rest in the earth that night, Ebenezer Wentworth reminded the bereaved parents and their friends that little Bobby did, indeed, rest in loving arms, those of his heavenly Father.  “He sings with the angels tonight,” the minister assured them, “free from the pain of this life, waiting to welcome us all when our time of passing comes.”  As angry as Ben felt with Wentworth, even he found the words comforting, and it was obvious Clyde and Nelly were grateful for the consolation they offered.

    Still, the day had been painful.  Ben and Inger were relieved by Adam’s slight improvement, but having attended two funerals, they found it hard to rejoice openly in their good fortune.  The number of sick continued to rise.  Both bereaved mothers were ill, and Fredrich Zuebner, too.  They’d seen the first signs of that when he’d tried to help dig Bobby’s grave and fallen, too weak to rise again.  All four Larrimores were feeling sick, as well.  While none of them seemed seriously ill, you could never tell with cholera.  Enos Montgomery——thankfully, not afflicted himself——went far beyond the duties for which he’d been hired in his solicitous care for the entire family.

    Ben took charge of the men’s meeting that night in Lawrence’s absence.  Along with Clyde, Jonathan and Ebenezer——the only men still on their feet——he decided the train would have to halt until enough of them felt able to continue the journey.

    The train remained encamped by the North Platte Friday.  Sickness had prostrated at least one member of every family now, for the Wentworth children and Martha had finally fallen ill.  The boys each seemed to have a light case, like the one from which Billy Thomas was now recovering, but Martha and tiny Mary were very ill.  With everyone in his family sick, Reverend Wentworth was no longer able to assist the other ailing members of the party.  He had his hands full.

    Billy Thomas wandered over to the Cartwright’s fire just before noon.  “Hello, Billy,” Inger said, stooping to give him a hug.  “You are feeling better, yah?”

    “Yes’m,” Billy said.  “Can I see Adam now?”  It was the third time he had asked that morning.

    Inger shook her head.  “Not today, Billy,” she replied, as she had to each earlier request.  “Adam is still very weak.”

    “He’s gonna get better, though, ain’t he?” Billy demanded.

    “We hope so,” Inger said.  “How is your mother?”

    “I don’t know,” Billy said, kicking a pebble.  “She don’t want me around.”

    Inger smoothed the red hair that was sticking up in at least twelve directions.  “She’s just sick, Billy; she needs quiet so she can rest.”

    Billy shook his head.  “She never did want me around——just Bobby.”

    Inger knelt and drew the unhappy boy into her arms.  “That is not true, Billy,” she said matter-of-factly.  “Bobby vas a sveet little boy, but you are just as special to your mother in your own vay.”

    “She calls me a pest,” Billy moped.

    Inger laughed gently.  “Vell, aren’t you?”  She gave the boy a firm squeeze.  “When your mama says that, she says it vith much love in her eyes.  You know she is only teasing.  If you crawl close to her, I think she vould squeeze you tighter than this.”

    A slight grin lifted the corners of Billy’s mouth.  “You reckon?”

    “Yah, I am sure a hug is just the medicine she needs,” Inger said brightly.  “Run give her one, then hurry back here, and I vill give you lunch.  Tell your papa to come, too.”  Billy gave her a quick nod and raced to his parents’ tent.

    When lunch was almost ready, Inger pulled back the flap of her tent and looked inside.  “Is Adam better?” she asked.

    Sitting beside their son, Ben shook his head.  “He seems about the same.  He’s sleeping now, though.”

    “That is good,” Inger said, dropping down beside her husband.  She sighed wearily and Ben put an arm around her.

    “You’re tired,” he said.

    “Yah,” Inger agreed.  “Ve have had little sleep the last two nights.”

    “I know,” Ben said solemnly, “and you’ve been doing more than you should to help the others.”

    Inger gave a short, almost bitter, laugh.  “How can I not, Ben?  There are so few of us left who can help.”

    “Nonetheless,” Ben said firmly.  “You have done enough.  I want you to lie down and rest this afternoon.  Surely, that babe of ours isn’t going to stay cooped up in your belly much longer, and you mustn’t go into labor already exhausted.”

    Inger chuckled.  “Our baby seems in no great hurry, but you are right.  I vill rest, Ben; I promise.  Lunch is ready now, and Clyde and Billy should be here any minute.  You are coming?”

    Ben gave her a twisted smile.  “I don’t think so.  My stomach’s churning.”

    Alarm sprang into Inger’s eyes.  “Oh, Ben, not you, too!”

    Ben caught her and held her close.  “No, no, my love.  I don’t think it’s cholera, just another bout with dysentery.”

    “Then it is you who should rest this afternoon,” Inger said.

    Ben chuckled.  “We’re a feeble bunch, all right.  I’ll make you a bargain.  You dish up lunch, and I’ll tend to the cleanup.  Then we’ll both take a nap alongside our sleepy boy here.”

    Inger laid her head on his shoulder.  “It’s a bargain,” she said.

    Although Ben wasn’t interested in food, he crawled out to meet Clyde when he arrived with Billy.  “How’s Nelly?” he asked.

    “She seems a little better,” Clyde said, “but real weak.”

    “That’s the way it is with Adam,” Ben commented.  “You heard anything about the others?”

    Clyde cackled.  “I hear old Sterling ain’t got the cholera after all, for all his carryin’ on.  Seems the youngun made a raid on the jellybeans while his ma was too sick to stop him.  Plumb gorged himself into a bellyache.  Enos thinks that may be what’s ailin’ Jewel, too, though she seems sicker than Stirpot.”

    Ben chuckled.  It was good to have something to laugh at again.  But he was sure Lawrence and Camilla weren’t up to enjoying the humor their children were giving their neighbors.

    “Rachel’s on the mend,” Clyde reported, “and little Katerina’s holding her own, but her pa’s real bad, I hear.”

    Ben shook his head.  “That strong bull of a man.  It’s hard to picture him sick.”

    “That’s cholera for you,” Clyde said.  “Strikes where it will, takes who it wants.” The faraway look in his eyes told Ben Clyde was thinking of Bobby, so Ben reached out to grasp his friend’s shoulder.

    Clyde took seconds on everything Inger offered him.  “Seein’ as how you still got some left,” he suggested, “you mind if I take a little to Nelly.”

    “You think she can eat it?” Inger asked.  “I vas going to make some soup for Adam later; I vould be glad to bring some to Nelly, too.”

    “Probably would set easier on her stomach,” Clyde admitted.  “I just thought I ought to get a little nourishment in her.”

    “I’ll bring some soup,” Inger promised.

    “For supper,” Ben said firmly.  “You are taking a nap first, remember?”

    Inger rolled her eyes.  “Yes, Ben, I remember.”

    The Cartwrights lay side by side in their tent for most of the afternoon.  It was time for Inger to start the promised soup, but she had fallen asleep, and Ben hadn’t the heart to waken her.  He heard shuffling feet outside the canvas shelter, then an urgent whisper.  “Ben, Ben, you awake?”

    Ben crawled to the tent opening and peered out.  “Yeah, Clyde, but the soup’s not on yet.”

    “I ain’t here for soup,” Clyde said.  “I know you’re feelin’ puny, but you reckon you got the strength to help me and Jonathan dig a grave?”

    Ben groaned.  “Oh, no.  Who this time?”

    “It’s Fredrich,” Clyde mumbled.

    “But he just took sick yesterday,” Ben protested.  “I’ve heard of cholera killing that fast, but not Fredrich, surely.”

    “He’s gone, Ben.  I hate to ask, but there’s only three of us left able-bodied enough to do the job.  I could ask Wentworth, I guess, but he’s tendin’ four sick ones at his wagon.”

    “He wasn’t strong-muscled to begin with,” Ben said.  “I’ll come, but I’m not sure how much help I’ll be.  How’s Ludmilla holding up?  Should I send Inger?”

    “Naw, I wouldn’t,” Clyde replied.  “Rachel’s with her, still peaked herself, but strong enough to comfort someone else, I reckon.”

    “Larrimore know?” Ben asked.

    “Not yet.”

    “I’ll tell him, then meet you down by Bobby’s grave.”

    Clyde nodded.  Somehow, it comforted him to know that his boy wouldn’t be lying alone on the prairie.  It was as if even in death, the big German farmer would be there to watch over Bobby the way he’d watched over so many of them at dangerous river crossings.

    Everyone who was able to stand attended the brief service the Reverend Wentworth conducted over Fredrich’s burial.  When Inger saw the grieving widow approach the grave, she started toward her.  Then, seeing Ludmilla leaning heavily on her son’s arm, she stopped.  It was right that Stefán be the one to comfort his mother today.

    As Inger watched the boy support his mother, she knew he had stepped into his rightful place as head of the family.  And if any boy of twelve could handle the load of responsibility that had suddenly dropped onto his young shoulders, Stefán was that boy.  No, Inger corrected herself, for all his youth, Stefán was a boy no longer; he was a young man now.

    Saturday found most of the infirm showing signs of improvement, but still too weak to consider traveling.  The grim reaper refused to conclude his harvest without swinging his sickle through one more family, however.  When she heard the news, Inger went at once to help prepare Martha Wentworth’s body for burial, but she found Ludmilla Zuebner already at work.  “I can do this,” Ludmilla said, “but, maybe, you speak to minister.  He is so sad, and I don’t know words to give him.”

    Inger nodded.  She wasn’t sure she had words to comfort the poor man, either, but she breathed a short prayer and went to find him.  As she approached the Wentworth tent, Inger heard the agonized cries of the bereft husband.  “My God, my God,” the minister sobbed.  “It is I who sinned, not my sainted wife.  And these innocent children——please, dear Lord, take my life and spare theirs!”

    Inger closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her lips.  She had seen grief in the others who had lost family members, heard the painful ‘why’ screaming from their hearts, but nothing like the anguish pouring through the thin walls of this tent.  This was the sound of a soul enduring the torments of hell on the wrong side of the grave.

    Inger braced herself and slipped through the opening of the tent.  Unaware of her entrance, the minister, stretched prostrate between his suffering children, continued to cry out for a mercy he clearly felt he did not merit.  “Reverend Ventvorth,” Inger said quietly.

    Surprised, the minister rolled over and lifted a puffy, blotched face.  “What do you want?” he asked gruffly.

    Inger knelt beside him.  “Can I help you vith the children?” she asked softly.

    “No,” Wentworth said abruptly.  “I don’t need help.”  His voice broke.  “I—I don’t deserve help.”

    Though she felt uncomfortable being so familiar with a man of God, Inger gently touched his cheek.  “Ebenezer,” she said softly.  “Do not distress yourself so.”

    Wentworth sat up, his face taut.  “Mrs. Cartwright, I’m sure you mean well, but you cannot understand what I am feeling.  To have brought this on my dear family, I—I—”  He broke down again and turned his face away.

    Inger took his hand and squeezed hard.  “But you have not, Reverend Ventvorth.”

    The face the minister turned back to her was flushed with anger.  “Do you presume to instruct me in religion, ma’am?”

    Inger took a deep breath before answering.  “No, I know you are much wiser in spiritual things than I; but sometimes, when our hearts are so pained, ve forget the vords of the Good Book ve need most.  Perhaps, then, a simple peasant voman can remind a friend of God’s goodness, even though he is so much wiser at other times.”

    The kind words so softly spoken quenched the fire in the minister’s heart.  “Forgive me, Mrs. Cartwright,” he said.  “I had no right to attack you like that, but you don’t understand.  I have always believed the evil that comes to our lives arrives in consequence of our sins.  Not believing that yourself, how can you know my pain?”

    “I cannot,” Inger said simply, “but what is this sin you have done?  You did not vish to travel on the Sabbath; you were forced by the others.  Vould God hold you guilty for that?”

    Wentworth sighed.  “I don’t know.  I thought not, but perhaps I should have used more faith, been willing to travel alone.”

    “That vould have been foolish,” Inger said firmly.

    Wentworth’s eyes raked the ceiling of his canvas shelter.  “Then, perhaps, my real sin was my uncharitable attitude toward the rest of you.  Perhaps, that is why God has taken my dear wife.”

    Inger looked kindly into his haunted face.  “It vas cholera that took your wife, not the hand of God,” she said as tenderly as if she were talking to a child.  “And I think there is no sin for you to repent of.  Does not the Good Book say that it rains upon the just and the unjust, both alike.”

    Wentworth’s lips trembled.  “Yes, yes, it says that.”

    “Is cholera different from rain?” Inger asked quietly.  “If ve cannot understand the vays of the veather, how can ve hope to know why one lives and one dies when it is disease that rains upon us?”

    “I—I don’t know,” the minister said, but for the first time there was hope in his heart.  “Perhaps, it is like the rain, coming whether or not there is sin.  I would like to believe that, Mrs. Cartwright, but—”

    “Let me stay vith the children,” Inger offered.  “Find a quiet place and ask the heavenly Father if it is not so.  I am sure it is peace He vants to give you, not all these tortured thoughts.”

    Reverend Wentworth swallowed hard.  “Yes, yes, I’d like to do that, if you’d be so kind.”

    Inger smiled.  “I like children.  It takes no kindness to tend them.  Go and find peace, Ebenezer.”  The minister blinked back grateful tears and without further word left his children to Inger’s care.

    He returned an hour later, his countenance totally transformed.  Gone was the tension tightening his facial muscles; in its place, a tranquil trust resided.  He returned to a tent that was totally transformed, too.  In the absence of his heart-rending bombardment of a brazen heaven, a soft song had calmed his children’s restless tossing and lulled their weary bodies to sleep.  Leaving them to rest, Wentworth walked Inger back to her wagon.

    Ben, who had been brewing a pot of coffee, stood as his wife approached on the minister’s arm.  “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve come to ask your forgiveness,” Ebenezer said forthrightly.  “You came to me in a time of need, and I offered you no understanding.  Worse, I left your sick child to wrestle with a principle I now question myself.  Can you find it in your heart to forgive my foolishness?”

    If the minister had decked him with a sturdy right jab, Ben couldn’t have been more dumbfounded.  “I—I don’t know what to say,” he began.  “I know you were only expressing your beliefs, and every man in this nation has that right, but—”

    Ebenezer held up his hand.  “I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Cartwright, and it’s very gracious of you.  But though I didn’t see it this way at the time, I know now I wronged you.  It’s your forgiveness I need, not your defense.”

    Ben extended his hand.  “You are forgiven, sir.”

    Ebenezer exhaled in relief.  “Thank you.  I know I have no right to ask such a favor, but I would appreciate your saying a few words over my wife at the burying.”

    Ben’s face turned as white as his canvas wagon cover had been the day they left St. Joe.  “I’m not a public speaker,” he stammered.  “I couldn’t possibly express myself as eloquently as you have at the other services.”

    Ebenezer smiled sadly.  “I doubt I’d be eloquent at this one, and I scarcely think it’s eloquence that’s called for.  I’ve learned there can be great wisdom, as well as great comfort, in simple words.  I can think of no one I would rather have preside at Martha’s funeral, if you’re willing.”

    Ben swallowed the lump in his throat.  “I’ll do my best,” he said in a choked whisper.

    “Thank you,” Ebenezer replied.  “Now, would you still like me to speak with your boy?”

    “At a later time, I would,” Ben said.  “He’s so weak and tired today I doubt he could understand what you’d say.”

    Ebenezer nodded.  “Whenever you feel he’s ready, then.  I think I know how to comfort his fears, thanks to your wife.”

    As the minister walked away, Ben turned puzzled eyes to Inger’s face.  “Now, what did he mean by that, I wonder.”

    Inger tapped the tip of his nose.  “He meant that you are blessed vith a vonderful wife and should listen to her more often.”  Ben arched a skeptical eyebrow, but Inger refused to give him any further explanation.

    After the funeral Lawrence stumbled to Ben’s side.  Though still too feeble to stand for long, he had pushed himself to attend out of his great respect for the minister’s wife.  “Fine words, Ben,” he said.

    Ben didn’t agree; he’d felt uncomfortable the whole time, but the minister had shaken his hand and told him how much he appreciated the kind remarks Ben had made about his wife.  In the long run, Ben supposed, what mattered most was that the one whose heart was sorest had found relief.

    “I wondered if you’d gather the men together tonight to discuss whether we should move on tomorrow,” Lawrence requested.

    “Sure,” Ben agreed readily.  “After supper?”

    Lawrence shrugged.  “Whenever you like.  I’m asking you to act as captain in my stead, though I imagine most of the folks would just as soon you keep the position permanently.”

    “No, sir,” Ben dissented stoutly.  “You’re their choice; I wouldn’t be captain, even if I’d heard anyone voice a desire to change——which I haven’t.  I’ll gladly serve as your first mate, however.”

    A rowdy cackle assaulted Ben’s ears, and he spun around to see Clyde Thomas climbing up the knoll behind him.  “You got to face facts, Ben,” he said.  “You’re a landlubber now; you can’t be anybody’s first mate.  We’d better make you a lieutenant, instead.  How’s that sound, Larrimore?”

    Larrimore grinned.  “Lieutenant Cartwright.  Yeah, that sounds good.  Put it to a vote tonight, Clyde.”

    “Ain’t you gonna be at the meetin’?” Clyde asked.

    Lawrence shook his head.  “I’m worn down.  I believe we should travel tomorrow if at all possible, but I figure I’d better get all the rest I can today or I’ll be the one holding us up.”

    “Don’t push yourself,” Ben urged.  “We can wait if we need to.”

    Lawrence nodded.  “Appreciate it, but I think I’ll be able to manage.  If not, I just might make ole jelly belly Sterling take over my team.”

    “High time,” Clyde muttered as the train’s captain disappeared into his tent.  “That youngun could use a good dose of hard work.”  He laid a sympathetic hand on Ben’s shoulder.  “I don’t envy you taking charge tonight, Lieutenant.  With Wentworth grieving over his woman, he may be all the harder to convince about moving on a Sunday.”

    “I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Ben said quietly.  He gave Clyde a punch on the arm to acknowledge his concern.  “I imagine Inger will want to pay Nelly a visit while we meet.”

    “She’ll look forward to it,” Clyde said.  “She didn’t feel like gettin’ up for the buryin’, but she’s feelin’ sprier.”

    As the men gathered around the Cartwright campfire that night, young Stefán Zuebner walked shyly into the light.  “I know I am not a man,” he said, “but I must know the plans, so my family will be ready.”

    Ben put a supportive arm around the slender shoulders.  “You’re taking on a man’s responsibility, son; that earns you the right to a place on this council.  We’ll expect you at every meeting.”  Stefán blushed as he saw the other men nod and give him encouraging smiles.

    “Before we try to make any decision,” Ben began, “I think we need a report on how everyone’s faring.  Let’s start with you, Stefán.”

    “Only Katerina is sick,” Stefán replied, “and she is better.  Very weak still, but she can ride in the wagon.”

    “Good.  Jonathan?”

    “We’re fit for travel,” Payne reported.  “Rachel may do more riding than walking, but we’ll manage.”

    “Clyde, Nelly’s better, isn’t she?” Ben asked.

    “Yeah, I vote to move on,” Clyde answered.  “We been in this death camp long enough.”

    “Fine,” Ben responded.  “Reverend Wentworth?”

    A hush fell over the men gathered about the fire.  They expected the minister’s usual didactic insistence on keeping the Sabbath and hated the thought of crossing someone who’d just buried his wife.

    “The boys are much improved,” Ebenezer said, “but Mary’s very weak.  I wish they could have another day to rest, but I understand the need to move on as soon as possible.  You don’t really need my vote, of course; it’s clear you have a consensus already.  I’d like to state publicly, though, that I believe the time has come to continue our journey.”  Ebenezer smiled.  As he noticed the relieved expressions of his companions, he felt a genuine camaraderie with them, as well as a certain satisfaction in having surprised them so thoroughly.

    “Larrimore and I both vote to continue,” Ben said.  “That makes it unanimous.”

    “For the first time,” Clyde chortled.  He gave the minister’s back a hearty whack.

    “Easy, Clyde,” Ben laughed.  “We’re trying to get everyone healthy again, not create more invalids!”  The others joined in the laughter, and the meeting closed with each vying the others in the forcefulness of their fraternal back-thumping.

    The train made a late start the next morning; those who were leaving loved ones behind wanted a few final moments at their graves.  It was the first time Nelly’d had the strength to stand beside the mound of earth beneath which her golden-haired darling now slept, and the strain proved too great for her.  She fell across the tiny grave and wept uncontrollably.  Clyde finally had to carry her to her wagon.  Inger’s heart ached to go to her, but Adam was still so feeble she had to stay with him.

    “I’m getting way behind on my lessons,” Adam mourned as he lay languidly in the wagon.

    Inger gave him a tender kiss.  “You have vorked hard before, son; you can afford to rest now.”

    “I guess,” Adam sighed, “but I ain’t been writing in my journal, either.  Jamie won’t know what’s been happening.”

    Inger patted his hand.  “Now, now, do not fret; if you like, you can tell me what to say, and I vill write for you later.”

    Adam smiled weakly.  “Later,” he yawned.  “I’m tired now.”  Though it was not yet mid-morning, his eyes closed and he slept.  Inger took advantage of his nap time to climb down from the rocking wagon.  The baby was kicking so hard she felt as though she were being pummeled about inside and out.  Far better to walk, so the blows came from only one direction.

    As they traveled over a broad river bottom, they passed Smith’s Creek, a beautiful stream flowing over a sandy bed and stopped to water the oxen and fill their barrels full of the cool, refreshing water that made such a pleasant contrast to the muddy, stale waters of the Platte.  No one wanted to leave, but they were determined to reach Courthouse Rock by noon, and their late start left them little time to spare.  In the clear air the huge sandstone formation looked close, but it was miles ahead.

    When they finally arrived, however, it was not the famous landmark that first demanded their attention.  Instead, all eyes riveted on the solitary wagon camped near its base.  Ben, still acting as lieutenant by Lawrence’s request, called the wagons to a halt.

    Clyde trotted up to him.  “What’s wrong?”

    Ben pointed.  “Isn’t that McTavish?” he asked.

    Shading his eyes with his hand, Clyde peered ahead and nodded.  “Yup,” he said and spat at the ground.  “What’s he doing here?  That turncoat should’ve been miles ahead by now.”

    “Yeah,” Ben said.  “That’s just what’s bothering me.  I’m gonna go forward and check out the situation before we make camp.  You hold everyone here.”

    Clyde popped a salute at Ben.  “Aye, aye, Lieutenant,” he said crisply.

    Ben frowned.  This was no time for jokes.  He ambled slowly toward the McTavish camp and greeted his former trail mate with a curt “Hello.”

    McTavish had been watching Ben’s approach and responded cautiously.  “Hello, Ben.  Been wondering when you folks would catch up.”

    “Why, were you waiting for us?” Ben asked brusquely.

    McTavish flushed crimson and shook his head.  “No,” he admitted.  “I was ten kinds of a fool to part company with you, but I’m not so great a one as to think you’d welcome me back now I’ve come on hard times.”

    Ben’s icy stare thawed.  “You’ve had trouble?” he asked.

    “Nothing but,” McTavish said.  “I learned you can’t outrun cholera, for one thing.”

    For the first time Ben noticed the newly-dug grave.  “Oh, no,” he sighed.  “Who did you lose, Robert?”

    Robert blinked back the dampness in his eyes.  “My youngest, Joan.  Martha and Roberta took sick, too.  We all did, but I think the rest of us will pull through.  Joanie’s gone, though.”  The husky man’s voice broke with a sob.

    Ben reached out and touched the broad shoulder with a sympathetic hand.  “I’m sorry.  We buried four of the others back a ways, so we know something of what you’re feeling.”

    McTavish examined Ben’s face for signs of bereavement.  “None of your own?”

    “No, thank God,” Ben replied.  “Adam was bad for a time, and he’s still puny, but we’re hopeful he’ll make it.  Bobby Thomas, Johnny Payne, Martha Wentworth, and Fredrich Zuebner are the ones we lost.”

    “Zuebner!” McTavish cried.  “I’d’ve never guessed him.”

    Ben waved to Maggie, who was peering out the back of the wagon with a pale, fearful face.  He turned back to Robert.  “Why are you out here alone?  I was sure you’d have hooked up with another party by now.”

    McTavish couldn’t bring his eyes to Ben’s face.  “No one would have us,” he said, looking away.  “The healthy trains wouldn’t risk the cholera, and the sickly ones had enough problems without taking on ours.”

    “I see,” Ben said quietly.  He looked back at the other men of the train, gathered in a group, watching from a distance.  Ben wasn’t sure how they would respond to the dilemma now facing them.  He turned back to McTavish.  “If the others agree, would you want to join back up with us?” he asked.

    McTavish looked up, his lower lip trembling.  “I—I have no right to ask after abandoning ye all.”

    “No, you haven’t,” Ben agreed bluntly, “and I’m not sure how the vote will go, but I’m willing to put it to them.”

    McTavish swallowed a lump made up mostly of pride.  “You should know the worst, then, before you decide.”  He took a deep breath.  “We had a visit from some thieving Indians last night.  A lone wagon was an invitation, I guess.  They did us no harm, and didn’t stay long once they knew we had sickness, but they took everything that wasn’t packed deep.”

    “You’re short of supplies?” Ben asked.

    “Aye, and money to buy more,” McTavish admitted.  Tears started to trickle down his cheeks into his auburn beard.  “I—I don’t know what to do, Cartwright.  I don’t think we’ve got enough to go either forward or back, and we can’t stay here.”

    Ben took him by both arms.  “I’ll ask the others,” he said quietly, knowing now how he himself would vote.

    The Larrimore train circled for their noon encampment near Courthouse Rock, but still some distance from the wagon of the Scottish emigrant.  While the women prepared lunch, the men argued hotly about how to handle the situation.

    “Leave ‘em behind!” Clyde snorted.  “They made their decision; let ‘em live with it.”

    Jonathan Payne nodded grimly.  “Clyde’s pretty much spoken my feelings.”

    “The man acted out of fear for his family,” Ben pointed out.  “I don’t say that makes it right, but I can understand.”

    “I can’t!” Clyde shouted.  “The rest of you had families to consider, too.”

    “But—but what about Mrs. McTavish and Roberta?” young Stefán stammered.  “How can we leave helpless women alone on the trail?”

    “Keep your opinions to yourself, youngun,” Clyde sputtered.  “Just ‘cause you’re sweet on the gal—”

    “Clyde!” Ben interrupted.  “Every man here has the right to voice his opinion, even one as young as Stefán.”

    “All right, all right,” Clyde said, calming down.  “He ain’t the one I’m riled at, I reckon.”

    Lawrence coughed.  “The boy makes a good point, I think.  How can we abandon the woman and girl because we’re angry with the man?”

    “That really isn’t the point,” Reverend Wentworth said quietly.  “McTavish doesn’t need our help less because he’s a man.”

    “But he doesn’t deserve it,” Payne insisted.

    Wentworth sighed.  “None of us ever does, my friend.  I know what it is to need forgiveness, and I cannot be less charitable with Robert McTavish.”

    Clyde and Jonathan looked at each other and read the same sentiment in each other’s eyes.  They were the ones McTavish had abandoned that first day; and, to them, it was more personal than to the others.  But they saw the vote would go against them and didn’t want to distance themselves from the men who’d stood faithfully by them.  “I guess we have no choice but to accept them back,” Jonathan said.

    “Yeah,” Clyde grumbled, “but I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same about that man.”

    “Don’t lock yourself in, my friends,” Ebenezer urged.  “Men can change.  I’m proof of that, and I’m sure the Robert McTavish who rejoins our party will be a different man from the one who left it.”

    “Could—could I take the word to Mr. McTavish?” Stefán asked shyly.  The other men grinned.  They knew exactly what pollen was attracting the bee.

    Ben struggled to keep from smiling.  “Sure, Stefán.  I’m sure Mr. McTavish will be glad to see you.”  He couldn’t resist putting the emphasis on the word “mister.”  Stefán blushed and ran to the isolated wagon.

    The women had the food prepared by then, so the meeting dismissed.  Afterwards, a few members of the party walked over for a closer look at Courthouse Rock and its smaller companion, Jail Rock.  No one really felt like exploring, though.  They rehitched the oxen and headed out, a party of eight wagons once again.

    A few miles down the trail, the train passed a ledge with POST OFFICE carved in the rock.  In its water-worn fissures letters had been deposited for those behind on the trail, but no one stopped to check for messages.  The only one with any hope of finding a missive addressed to him was Ben, and the chances of that were too remote to warrant taking time to check through each crevice.

    They made camp that evening four miles beyond Courthouse Rock, and as Ben carried Adam to their tent, he felt a sudden inspiration.  “See there, Adam,” he said, pointing at the rock formations behind them.  “That’s where we were at noon.”

    “Uh-huh,” Adam said, laying his weary head on his father’s shoulder.

    Ben turned around to face west.  “But look where we’ll be tomorrow, son,” he urged.  “That’s Chimney Rock!”

    Adam’s head lifted immediately, and he smiled at the narrow spire rising above the flat prairie.  “It is, isn’t it, Pa?  It really is.”

    “It really is,” Ben said enthusiastically.  “Didn’t Pa promise you’d see it?”

    “Yeah,” Adam sighed contentedly as he laid his head down again.  He was still weak, obviously, but Ben thought he’d seen a spark of fresh life flicker in those precious black eyes.

    Though Adam was still too wobbly to walk the next day, he no longer lay apathetically inside the wagon.  He spent most of the morning on his knees, peering through the front opening at his long-looked-for landmark.  He didn’t understand why folks called it Chimney Rock; to Adam, it looked more like the trunk of a huge tree with all its limbs lopped off.

    When they stopped at noon, with the sandstone formation still seeming as far away as ever, his father explained that the rock reminded some people of the factory chimneys back east.  “But I like your description better,” Ben said brightly, happy to see his boy taking an interest in his surroundings once again.  It pleased Ben, too, to see Adam’s appetite pick up.  He felt certain now his son would recover.

    “Ain’t we ever gonna get there?” Adam asked petulantly.  “You promised today.”

    “We’ll still make it,” Ben assured him, “slow as we’re going.”  It wasn’t simply impatience that made the miles seem long to Adam today.  Ben knew the train was moving forward at a pace a snail could challenge.  Still, to be making any progress, taking into account how weak some of them still were, was a victory.

    The greatest victory, of course, was the one they had achieved over the dreaded cholera.  There’d been no new cases, and Ben didn’t think there would be any.  Their losses had been heavy, but to the survivors life was doubly dear.  So were the friends and family still with them.

    As Ben predicted, the train reached Chimney Rock before sundown—quite a bit before sundown, actually.  Though they could have covered another two or three miles, everyone was glad to make camp early.  Considering their condition, the day had been long enough, and they weren’t likely to find a better place to spend the night.  The bubbling spring near the famous landmark had always made it a popular campsite, and no group of emigrants ever greeted it with greater appreciation.

    While Inger prepared the evening meal, Ben carried Adam over to Chimney Rock.  As the boy’s small hand reached out to touch its conical base, he smiled.  He couldn’t find the words he needed to express what he felt, but Ben understood, anyway.  Staring at the landmark’s pinnacle, five hundred feet above him, he, too, felt a sense of triumph in just arriving.  Though he knew the most arduous part of their journey still lay ahead, coming this far gave Ben Cartwright renewed confidence that one day he’d rub the soil of the Sacramento Valley between his fingers with the same awe his young son felt when his hand touched Chimney Rock.

* * * * *

    Inger stirred restlessly and slowly awoke.  As her hand dropped from her stomach to the soaked blanket beside her, she jerked alert.  She immediately looked at Adam, sleeping on her right side, too far away for the dampness she felt to have come from his bowels.  Besides, the odor was different from diarrhea, more of a sickly sweet aroma.  Suddenly her stomach tightened in a way she’d never felt before, but immediately identified.  She smiled, understanding the wetness now.  Her water had broken and her labor begun.

    Inger nibbled her lips until the contraction ended.  It was still dark and she didn’t want to waken Ben.  Eventually, though, her soft moans became audible enough to penetrate his dreams and his eyes opened.  Concern flashed into them when he realized Inger was in pain.  Dear God, not now.  She couldn’t come down with cholera now when he was sure the worst was over!

    “Inger,” Ben whispered.  “Where does it hurt, sweetheart?”

    “My stomach, Ben,” Inger groaned.  “Where else?”

    Where else, indeed, Ben thought.  That’s where cholera always started.  Ben gathered his wife into his arms.  “Oh, darling, I’m so sorry.  I thought we were safely past this.”

    As another contraction hit, Inger winced.  “Past it?  It is just starting, Ben!” she cried, wondering how he could be so completely stupid.  “It vill be hours before the baby comes.”

    “Baby!” Ben shouted, relief and excitement battling for control of his face.  “Is that what it is, the baby?”

    Consternation painting her features, Inger stared at him.  “But what else vould it be?”

    Ben gave an embarrassed chuckle.  “Cholera?  Dysentery, maybe?”

    “Oh, Ben!”  Inger laughed, then gasped as the contraction ended.  “No, Ben, I am not sick,” she said when she stopped giggling.  “In fact, I expect to feel better soon than I have in veeks.  Is it light yet?”

    “Just barely.”

    “Then, maybe, you could take Adam to the Thomases and ask Rachel to come?”

    Ben kissed her.  “Of course, darling.”  He pulled on his boots and lifted Adam to his shoulder.  “Be back soon,” he promised.

    Clyde and Nelly were already awake when Ben called softly into their tent.  When Clyde answered his summons, he hurriedly explained that Inger was in labor.  “Can I deposit a boy with you for safe keeping?”

    “Sure, sure,” Clyde said.  “Hand him over.”  He took Adam from Ben’s arms and laid him down next to Billy so gently that neither boy woke.

    Ben hurried to the Payne tent and asked if Rachel could go to Inger.  Rachel’s face lighted up happily, and she ran to the Cartwright tent as fast as her still unsteady legs would carry her.

    After that, there didn’t seem to be much for Ben to do.  He started to cook breakfast for himself and Adam, but Nelly wouldn’t hear of it.  “Not after all the meals Inger fed my menfolk while I was ailin’,” she insisted.

    With nothing else for his idle hands to do, Ben clasped them behind his back and began to pace outside his wagon.  When Adam woke, he fell into step behind his father, matching the older Cartwright stride for stride.  For a long while, Ben didn’t notice his extra shadow.  When he did, he stopped his restless motion, figuring if he looked as ridiculous as his son, he was putting on quite a show for the rest of the camp.

    As Inger’s labor continued through the morning, Ben began to worry about the delay they were causing.  No one else seemed concerned, however.  Maybe they figured they’d lost so much time already, a few hours more couldn’t make any difference, or maybe they were still so debilitated they welcomed the rest.  Some of the sturdier men and boys, though, used the layover to climb up Chimney Rock and carve their names on its surface.  Ben learned later that Stefán Zuebner had shimmied all the way to the top.

    About the time the train would have normally stopped for their noonday rest, a loud squall pierced the canvas walls of the labor room.  To Ben, though, the cries were sweet music.  Adam heard them, too, and looked up from his game of marbles with Billy Thomas.  “He’s here, ain’t he, Pa?” the boy shouted.

    Ben’s lips twitched.  “You just won’t entertain the notion that it might be a girl, eh, boy?”

    Adam bounced to his feet.  “No, sir!  That’s a boy.  I can tell.”

    Ben laughed and took Adam’s hand.  “Let’s check, just to be sure, before we give the little one a name.”

    “But, Pa—”  Ben held his finger to his lips, so Adam didn’t get a chance to remind his father of the vital information he’d been about to convey.  Frustrated, he followed his father into their tent.

    Rachel Payne finished wrapping the baby in the blanket Inger had provided and handed him to his father.  “A fine strapping boy, Ben,” she said, beaming, “and I do mean strapping!”

    Ben knew what she meant the minute she laid the infant in his arms.  He had no scale here in the wilderness, of course, but he judged the newborn to weigh better than ten pounds, probably closer to fifteen.  In contrast to his memories of baby Adam, this boy was proportioned to match the vast prairie of his birth.  No wonder Inger’s belly had stuck out a country mile.  Rachel laughed at the amazement on Ben’s face and slipped outside to give the little family some privacy.

    “What a fine, walloping son you’ve given me, Inger,” Ben said as he sat next to his wife.

    Adam was even more impressed.  “Look at the size of it, Pa!” he cried, sitting on Inger’s other side.

    Ben chuckled.  “That’s not an ‘it,’ son; that’s your brother.”

    “Can I name him, Pa?”  Adam begged.  “Can I, huh?”

    Ben didn’t know how to respond without disappointing Adam, but he and Inger already had one name too many to choose from.  Inger looked longingly into her husband’s eyes.  “I had alvays hoped to name him after my father——Eric,” she said quietly.  Ben touched her cheek with a tender hand.  He, too, had wanted to honor his father with a namesake, but he couldn’t deny Inger after all she had endured to bring this child into the world.  Besides, they’d have other sons.

    Adam wasn’t so easily convinced.  “But don’t you remember?” he insisted.  “Uncle Gunnar said we should name him Hoss.”

    “Ah, yes, I remember,” Inger replied, smiling dreamily at the memory of her brother.  “In the mountains, that is the name for a big man vith friendly vays.”

    Ben looked from one to the other.  “Tell you what, Adam,” he suggested, assuming the role of peacemaker.  “We’ll give him both names and see which one sticks.”  Inger smiled at her husband’s tactfulness.  She was sure which name would stick, but as she glanced at Adam, the stubborn pucker of his lower lip said he intended to make sure it was his choice that stuck.

    Adam began his campaign immediately.  Running over to the Thomas tent, he announced loudly, “It’s a boy!”

    “I know that,” Billy scoffed.  “Mrs. Payne beat you to the punch.”

    “Oh,” Adam said as he squatted next to his friend.  “Bet she didn’t tell you his name, though.  It’s Hoss.”

    “Hoss!” Billy hooted.  “That’s a funny name.”

    Adam doubled his fist and stuck it under Billy’s nose.  “Don’t you be makin’ fun of my little brother.  He’s special; that’s why he’s got a special name.”

    “All little brothers is special,” Billy sniffed, not in derision this time, though.

    Catching the wistfulness in Billy’s tone, Adam understood what Billy had left unsaid.  “Yeah,” he agreed quietly.  “Bobby was a special little fellow, too.  I’m gonna miss him.”

    Billy bit his tongue, hoping the immediate pain would counteract the hidden one that threatened to come leaking out.  “I used to think he was a nuisance, always taggin’ after me.  I—I just wish he still could.”

    Adam scooted closer and squeezed his arm around Billy’s shoulder.  “I’ll share Hoss with you,” he promised.  “That way you’ll still have a little brother.”

    The kind words dissolved Billy’s self-control.  He shoved Adam away and, blinking back the tears, ran as hard as he could toward Chimney Rock.  Despite the rough treatment, Adam knew his offer had been accepted.  Billy just needed to outrun his emotions.  He’d be back soon; then, maybe, Pa’d let him give Billy a look at their new brother Hoss.


As the Larrimore train continued west along the North Platte, the lusty cries of its newest member brought a smile to the faces of everyone in the community of emigrants.  The new life seemed a vindication of all they had sacrificed, a reparation for all they had lost.  The birth of Eric Cartwright inspired renewed vigor in their steps as it reminded them that there was a future, a life beyond this wearisome plodding through endless wilderness.

    This reawakening was nowhere more evident than in Nelly Thomas.  When the train stopped at noon, she cradled the fat little infant in her arms and took deep, enlivening draughts of his sweet baby breath.  Brushing the soft fuzz of his cottony white hair, she remembered her first touch of Bobby’s golden wisps and the memories were sweet.  She held the baby close and let his nearness heal her hurting heart.

    About half past two that Wednesday afternoon, the eight wagons found their way blocked by a massive, mile-wide formation towering seven hundred and sixty feet above the Platte, against whose shore it crowded.  The trail veered to the left around Scott’s Bluff, named for Hiram Scott, who was supposed to have died there, although legends varied in their description of his final hours.  Some said the ailing man had been abandoned by his trail mates and left to die at this location; others attributed his death to Indians, still others to being mauled by a grizzly.  No one knew for sure.  All they knew was that the detour added frustrating miles to the journey.  Later emigrants would avoid the extra miles via Mitchell’s Pass, a wide cut through the center of the formation, but in 1850 that alternative was not yet available.

    Scott’s Bluff was another of the fascinating phenomena that marked the Oregon Trail.  Though not as popular as Chimney Rock or Independence Rock, which still lay ahead, the steep clay cliffs always drew the attention of those who passed by and set their imaginations to work to describe it for those back home.  A medieval city, some said, or a mighty fortress, which erosion had supplied with parapets and towers worthy to be inhabited by knights errant in the service of maidens fair.

    The cool spring gushing in this picture-perfect valley made Scott’s Bluff a desirable campsite, but mid-afternoon was too early to stop.  With longing looks backward, the emigrants passed the spring and trudged ahead on a steadily rougher trail.  Their path was continually upward toward the Rocky Mountains, their hazy, snow-capped peaks now visible in the distance.  For all their rugged, boulder-ridden ascent, however, these were only foothills.  Even so, the altitude made the summer night cold; and everyone who had a buffalo robe gratefully huddled beneath its warm fur.

    Thursday morning Ben and Clyde borrowed Jonathan’s horses, determined to track down some game for the camp.  Over supper the previous night they had discussed what a tonic fresh meat would be for those who were still recovering from cholera.  They were hoping to sight a herd of buffalo, since they would soon be leaving the big animals’ customary territory, but they saw none.  Instead, they found deer tracks and followed them, each bagging a good-sized buck.

    Returning to camp by noon, Clyde apologized to Nelly, who had expressed a craving for buffalo tongue.  “Don’t fret yourself none, darlin’,” Nelly said.  “Venison stew suits my taste buds just dandy.”   Since Nelly was still recuperating herself, Inger cooked two huge pots of the stew and shared some with each family.  The eyes of the invalids, in particular, lit up at the sight of the savory stew, and they spooned in such sizable portions that their loved ones knew they were feeling better and thanked God for the return of healthy appetites.

    The venison took longer to prepare than the standard salt pork and cornbread, so the train was a little late in starting their afternoon march.  Everyone who tasted the stew, however, considered it worth the wait.  Besides, as the men had discussed in their meeting the previous evening, they’d have to stop at the trading post ahead, anyway.  Most of them——even the Paynes, thanks to the pounding their friends had given them——had sufficient supplies to have by-passed it.  McTavish, on the other hand, was dangerously low on breadstuff.  For his sake they’d have to stop and, considering how late they’d pull in, might as well spend the night near there.

    On first view Robidoux’s Trading Post was unimpressive, nothing but a log shanty divided into two parts:  in one end a combination grog shop and grocery and in the other a blacksmith’s forge.  Jonathan decided to take advantage of the service by getting his horses reshod, even though a dollar a shoe seemed high.  When Clyde discovered he could rent the use of the shop and tools for seventy-five cents an hour, he offered to service Payne’s horses for half the price.  “You pull your wagon in here, too, Ben Cartwright,” Clyde ordered.  “Seein’ as how you’re carryin’ my anvil, the least I can do is make sure your rig is tight.”

    “On one condition,” Ben said.  “You can tighten my wagon to your heart’s content, provided you’ll join me for a drink when you’re done.”

    Clyde cracked a grin.  “Say now, that do sound good.  I ain’t had a shot of good whiskey since St. Joe.”

    Ben looked askance at the shabby shanty.  “I didn’t promise you it’d be good.  Rotgut’s probably all they have, but I figure you’ll have earned it.”

    “Listen to the man!” Clyde announced to the rafters.  “He’s sayin’ my work ain’t worth nothin’ but rotgut!”

    Ben flapped his hand at Clyde in dismissal of the charge and left to see if Inger’d found anything she needed in the other end of the cabin.

    “No, Ben,” Inger assured him.  “They have few supplies here, so I think to vait until Fort Laramie to restock.  You must meet Mr. Robidoux, though.  He says he is one of the men who founded St. Joseph.”

    “Well, that’s interesting!” Ben said.  He introduced himself to the French proprietor of the trading post and asked if he were indeed a founder of St. Joseph.”

    “Ah, oui, monsieur,” Antoine Robidoux replied.  “That was in ‘forty-three.  It was as small a place as this then, but I hear it is doing well.  You came through there?”

    “We lived there for about a year and a half,” Ben said.  “It’s turned into a fine town, sir; I hope your place here fares as well.”

    Robidoux made the sign of the cross over his chest.  “Oui, let us hope.”

    “What can you tell us about the trail ahead?” Ben asked.  As the trader described the route to follow, Inger wandered over to talk with Robidoux’s Indian wife.

    Over a dinner of roast venison, Ben told the Thomases what he’d learned.  “It’s about fifty miles on to Fort Laramie,” he said.  “We should be able to make that in about three days’ good drive.

    “If we don’t stop for the Sabbath,” Clyde pointed out.  “Maybe we should, though.  The oxen are lookin’ a little ragged.”

    “Yeah, well I guess we’ll decide that Saturday night,” Ben said.

    “Oh, you men,” Nelly chided.  “Always jawin’ when there’s good food ready to dish up.”

    “Quit jawin’ yourself, then, woman, and start dishin’,” Clyde cackled.

    The trail continued rough throughout Friday’s march, but the train made good time, nonetheless.  Adam was able to scamper around in the tall grass with Billy, chasing the biggest crickets they’d ever seen, with almost as much vigor as before his illness.  He ran whimpering to his mother soon after, though, his pants legs peppered with stickers that pricked blood from his fingers when he tried to remove them.

    Inger swatted him into the wagon and climbed up after him to pick off the offending grass burrs.  “Stay close to the vagons,” she cautioned.  “You won’t pick up so many stickers where the trail is beaten down.”  Adam tried to walk beside the wagon, but he got tired of choking on dust.  When Billy stuck his thumbs in his ears and wiggled his fingers in a taunting gesture, Adam took off after him.

    He didn’t return to the camp until the wagons stopped for the noon break.  With his legs covered once again with evidence of his disobedience, he was afraid he’d get a scolding, if not a licking.  Inger just shook her head reproachfully, though, and told him he’d have to tend to his own stickers this time.  She had lunch to prepare, as well as an imperative, squalling baby to nurse.  She had no time to baby Adam, too.

    Adam frowned.  For the first time he wondered if having a baby brother was going to be all he’d imagined it to be.  So far Hoss didn’t do much besides wail for food and wet his britches, and he demanded an unbelievable amount of Inger’s time with both those activities.

    When Adam confided his opinion to Billy, the redhead rolled in the grass, heedless of the stickers clinging to his shirt.  “That’d be a good name for him,” he snickered.  “Let’s call him little ‘Wet and Wail!’”

    Adam giggled.  “That sounds like an Indian name.”

    Billy sat up, suddenly inspired.  “Hey, yeah!  And if our baby brother is an injun, we must be, too.”

    “‘Our brother?’” Adam grinned.  “Didn’t know you claimed him.”

    “Can’t yet,” Billy said and hurriedly explained.  “Don’t you see, Adam.  I can’t be Hoss’s brother until I’m yours.”

    Adam’s brow furrowed.  “Yeah, I guess.  I figured we were just pretending.”

    “No, no,” Billy insisted.  “Let’s be real blood brothers, like the injuns, Adam.”

    Adam caught his friend’s excitement.  “Hey, yeah!  You know how?”

    Billy pulled a burr from his shirt and pinched it hard.  Showing Adam the drop of blood oozing from his index finger, he held out his shirt with the other hand.  “Help yourself,” he chuckled.

    Adam’s nose wrinkled in distaste.  Those burrs hurt!  That wouldn’t bother a real Indian, though, he decided, as he plucked a sticker from Billy’s shirt and made his own finger bleed.

    “Now we gotta smash our fingers together so the blood’ll mix,” Billy ordered.  “Then, we’ll be brothers for sure and always.”

    Adam pressed his finger against Billy’s and rubbed it in a circular motion.  “We ought to have Indian names, too,” he suggested.

    “Okay,” Billy said.  “Let’s see; I’ll call you Chief Know-It-All.”  Billy exploded with laughter at his own joke.

    “Oh, yeah?” Adam snorted, mad that Billy was again making fun of his scholarly tendencies.  “Well, then, I’ll call you Chief Fire-on-Head.”

    Billy, being sensitive about his flaming hair color, shoved Adam down and rolled him in a nest of stickers.  Adam yelped and scuffled to trade places with Billy.  As any mother of two could have told them, it was the most fitting conclusion to their ritual:  now they were acting like real brothers.

    As Clyde had observed, the oxen were showing signs of strain by the end of Saturday’s advance; but the men decided to travel on Sunday nonetheless.  As Ben pointed out after consultation with his guidebook, two days’ drive would bring them to Fort Laramie, a safer place to rest themselves and their animals.  So they pushed on, their weary teams making a respectable fifteen miles on Sunday.  Since that put them only five miles from the fort, McTavish suggested trying to reach it that night.  Lawrence told him, however, that the Laramie River lay between them and the fort and the ferry didn’t run past dark.  They couldn’t reach the fort ‘til morning, anyway.

    The train was on the trail early Monday, eager to cover the four miles between them and the river.  They arrived about nine o’clock to find the ferry crowded, but most of them were content to wait their turn.  Only McTavish argued against paying the four-dollar fee.  “The river’s not that deep; we could ford it,” he insisted.

    “It’s not the depth,” Larrimore argued.  “It’s the current.  It’s too swift to ford safely, Robert.  If it’s a question of money, I’d be happy to—”

    “I’ll not be taking your charity, Mr. High and Mighty!” McTavish snapped and stalked away, his face blazing.  His anger told his neighbors, more clearly than anything else could have, how painfully short of funds the fiercely proud Scotsman was.  When it came his turn, he paid the four dollars, but the others wondered how he’d pay for the supplies he needed or for the ferries over rivers still ahead.  They had no idea, however, how to meet the man’s need without the offensive appearance of charity.

    Despite the crowd, the Larrimore train was able to cross the river by mid-afternoon, leaving them plenty of time to travel the mile and a half between the river and the fort.  Their route lay through a narrow gorge, so narrow that when Adam looked overhead he saw a wild goat leap from one side to the other above him.  “Pa!  Pa, did you see that?” he shouted.

    Ben turned and gave the excited boy a smile.  “See what, son?”

    “The goat, Pa!” Adam said, pointing overhead.  “He jumped right across there!”

    “Oh, son, you’re pulling my leg,” Ben accused.

    “Naw, he ain’t,” Clyde called ahead.  “I seen it, too.”

    As he walked forward, Ben watched the cliff top with a skeptical eye, but he soon gave a delighted cry.  “They’re right, Inger!  Did you see that?”

    “Yah, I did,” Inger said, shifting her heavy baby to her other shoulder.  “Climb up and catch one, and ve vill have goat stew for supper.”

    “Not tonight, my dear,” Ben chuckled.  “Tonight I do nothing but set up the tent and collapse inside it.”

    “Aw, come on, Pa,” Adam wheedled.  “Goat stew sounds good.”

    Ben ruffled his hair.  “Mama’s teasing, son.  There’s no way to climb up that steep cliff carrying a rifle.  We may find some wild goats in the mountains ahead, though.”

    An hour later sharp-eyed Adam was the first in his family to spot the fort.  Inger followed his pointing finger, and her eyes shone with joy.  “Oh, Ben,” she murmured.  “What a beautiful valley!  So much good grass for the oxen.  I am so glad ve pushed to get here before stopping.”

    “Yeah, look how clear the water is,” Ben commented.  “Quite a change from our muddy friend, the Platte.”

    “Oh, yah,” Inger agreed.  “It vill be almost a pleasure to do laundry in such vater.  Oh, and a bath!  What heaven that vill be!”

    “Amen to that!” Nelly called.  Had the other ladies been close enough to hear, they would have added their amens, as well.  After choking on the dust of the trail for weeks, a refreshing bath in the sparkling waters of the Laramie River and clean clothes to dress in afterwards would make the best benediction to this stage of their journey.

    Thanks to Clyde’s work at Robidoux’s fort, Ben’s wagon was in fine shape, so he was able to make August 6th a true day of rest.  As he strolled through the fort with Inger and Adam at his side, he was impressed by all he saw.  From the fifteen-foot high walls with their slender palisade to the clay blockhouses on two corners with their brass swivel cannons, the place gave off an aura of preparedness for any emergency.  Even the entrance was well conceived for security.  It consisted of two gates with an arched passage between them through which each visitor had to pass.  Seeing the small square window cut in one side of the passage, Ben nodded with approval.  That window allowed someone from the adjoining room to inspect those entering and deal with anyone suspicious before the inner gate into the fort itself was opened.  Though their wagons were camped outside the walls of the fort, having such a professionally run refuge nearby made Ben and the other emigrants feel safer than they had in weeks.

    Passing through the inner gate, Ben inspected the interior and found his first impressions collaborated.  The fort was divided into two parts:  one a square area surrounded by storerooms, offices and quarters for the fort’s residents, the other side a narrow corral behind whose high clay walls the livestock could be herded for safe-keeping if the fort were under attack.  The walls of Fort Laramie, while only made of adobe, were whitewashed, exhibiting the kind of care Ben had found lacking at Fort Kearny.

    To tend to first things first, Ben helped Adam post his second bundle of homework assignments back to Josiah Edwards, then the three Cartwrights moved through the crowd of other emigrants at the fort to see what the sutler’s store had to offer.  “I could use more rice,” Inger said.  “Ve are eating more of that than I expected.  I know it is high, but—”

    “We’re not short of funds,” Ben reminded her.  “Get whatever you think we need.”  He expected a smile in return, but Inger wasn’t even looking at him.  Her eyes were on Maggie McTavish, obviously making careful decisions about what supplies she could buy, what she could do without.  Ben understood Inger’s distraction now.  Giving her an encouraging hug, he asked softly.  “Just rice?  Anything else, my love?”

    Inger turned to smile up at him, then.  “Yah, I think ve should buy three more buffalo skins.  They are three dollars each; but vith colder nights ahead, I think ve vould like to have one underneath as vell as one covering us.”

    “That’s a good idea,” Ben said.  “Is three enough?  What about little Eric?”

    “‘Little’?” Inger laughed.  “Try carrying him all day and see if you call him that.”

    Ben chuckled in response.  “He’s an armload, all right.  You didn’t lighten your load much by giving birth.”

    “At least, he sleeps in the vagon part of the day,” Inger smiled, giving her snoozing baby a gentle pat.  She looked more soberly at her husband.  “Ben,” she began hesitantly, “could ve afford six buffalo skins?”

    “Six?” Ben asked, surprised.  “I know that new boy of ours is big, but surely he doesn’t need more than the rest of us.”

    “Not for him,” Inger whispered.  “I vould like to give them to the McTavishes.  I know they vill not spend money for something like that, and I hate to think of them shivering in the cold mountain nights.”

    “It’s a kind thought, Inger,” Ben said, giving her cheek a tender stroke, “but I doubt McTavish would accept.”

    “He doesn’t need to know,” Inger said.  “You could just put them in his vagon after he goes to sleep.  If they don’t know where they came from, they can’t return them.”

    Ben raised an eyebrow.  “I don’t know, Inger,” he said skeptically.  “The man just might be proud enough to leave them lying on the ground.”

    “The voman is not,” Inger assured him.  “Maggie vill see they stay where they ought.  I am not vorried about that, only the expense.”

    Ben kissed her swiftly.  “Never, never worry about that, my dear.  We spent an extra year in St. Joseph to make sure we’d suffer no lack on this journey.”

    “That vas for land in California,” Inger reminded him, “and for livestock.”

    Ben shook his head.  “That was for anything we need, and I figure helping out a neighbor qualifies as a need.  Now, is there anything else you want, something for yourself, perhaps?”

    “I can think of nothing, Ben.  Just rice and buffalo skins.”  The baby on her shoulder started to stir.  “Can you make the purchases alone, mine husband?” she asked with a smile.  “Our son seems ready to vake up, and he usually demands his dinner soon after.”

    “At the top of his lungs,” Ben said wryly.  “Please take him out of here before he starts that up, Inger.”

    Amused that Ben would be embarrassed by something as natural as a hungry baby, Inger shook her head in mild rebuke and edged through the crowd toward the door.  She made her way back to their wagon and crawled inside the tent to nurse her boy.  Then, she laid him down for a nap while she gathered up her family’s dirty laundry.

    “Goin’ down to the river?” Nelly Thomas called.

    “Yah, could you vatch the baby for me?  Or did you plan to go into the fort?” Inger asked.

    “Lands, no,” Nelly scoffed.  “I got no hankerin’ to push my way through that crowd.  ‘Sides, I got a pile of dirty duds ‘most high as yours to tend to.”

    “No one’s is as high as mine,” Inger moaned.  “The diapers that boy can soil in a day!  I try to keep them up on the trail, but it is hard.”

    “I reckon Rachel can sympathize with you in that,” Nelly laughed.  Her voice quivered as she added, “Of course, she don’t have a boy like Adam to do for now.”

    “I’m sure she’d velcome the extra vork,” Inger said quietly, “and you, as vell, Nelly.”

    Nelly nodded silently, then brightened.  “Well, enough sad memories.  I’d be glad to help watch Hoss—”

    “Hoss!” Inger exclaimed.  “Oh, no, don’t tell me Adam has you convinced!”

    Nelly shrugged and grinned.  “Can’t help myself.  He and Billy won’t call that youngun anything else, and you got to admit the name fits, Inger.”

    Inger chuckled.  “Not yet, I don’t.  But how can you vatch Eric if you have vork of your own?”

    “Easy,” Nelly said.  “There’s plenty of shade down to the riverside for the baby to nap in, so I’ll carry him while you bring your clothes.  Then we’ll work together; and when your things are clean, I’ll come back for my clothes and you can help wash them.”

    “A good plan,” Inger agreed.  “Let me get a blanket for Eric; then I vill be ready.”

    Meanwhile, Ben had completed his transactions at the trading post and was staggering out with a load of six buffalo skins and an Indian cradleboard on his back, as well as a package under one arm.  He heard a loud cackle and, recognizing the voice, turned to grin at Clyde Thomas.  “I must make quite an eyeful, all right,” Ben admitted.

    “Looks like I should’ve brought my cart along to carry all your goods back to camp,” Clyde snickered.

    “You don’t know the half of it,” Ben said.  “I’ve got a hundred-pound sack of rice still in there that I’ll have to come back for.”

    “I’d offer to help,” Clyde said, grinning broadly, “but with the list Nelly made, I’ll be wishing I’d brought that cart for my own stuff.”

    “I thought you meant to trade it for a wagon,” Ben said.  “Wouldn’t they barter with you?”

    “Well, I tell you,” Clyde said, “they had them wagons priced reasonable enough that I decided to just buy one outright and keep the cart, too.  With all the tools I’m carryin’, I can use the extra space, and I figure Billy can handle a single yoke of oxen.”

    “Sure,” Ben agreed.  “Be good experience for him, and Adam can help out, too.”

    “Dad gum, right!” Clyde snorted.  “I don’t figure you or me either aims to raise no lazy sluggard like that Stirpot Larrimore.”

    “Clyde,” Ben drawled in admonishment.

    Clyde spit at the ground.  “It’s the truth, and you know it.”

    “Yeah, well, just don’t let Inger hear it,” Ben warned, “or you’ll have to make a speech in the boy’s honor before you taste your next supper at our campfire.”

    Clyde cackled.  “A timely warning, Ben boy!  I’ll take heed to it.  See you back at camp.”

    “Or here,” Ben groaned.  “I’ve got another trip to make, remember?”

    “Oh, the hardships of bein’ rich!” Clyde snickered.

    “Are we rich, Pa?” Adam asked as he trotted by Ben’s side.

    “We have each other, don’t we, boy?” Ben asked.  “And good friends and all we need for a good life?”

    “I reckon,” Adam said.

    “That’s riches enough for any man,” Ben said.  He and Adam made their way back to camp to unload.  “You coming back with me, son?” Ben asked when he was ready to return to the fort.

    “I can’t carry the rice, Pa,” Adam said.  “It’s too heavy.”

    Ben laughed.  “I didn’t mean for you to.  I thought we might take a stroll up on the wall before I picked up the rice.  Ought to be a fine view from there.  You want to see it?”

    Adam shrugged.  “I reckon.”  Adam didn’t expect to take much pleasure in just gawking at scenery, but he had nothing better to do.  As he walked along the southern wall beside his father, though, he pointed excitedly to a cluster of scaffolds in the distance.  “What’s that, Pa?  It looks like Indian stuff.”

    Ben looked at the circle of white buffalo skulls surrounding the scaffolds.  “I don’t know, son,” he said, “but you’re right.  It definitely has an Indian look to it.”

    “That be the burying place for Dakota chiefs,” a soldier guarding the wall offered.

    “Really?” Ben asked.  “They bury them in the air like that?”

    “Sure do,” the soldier said.  “To give them a head start to the happy hunting ground, maybe.”

    “Maybe,” Ben said, not sure how accurate a source of information on tribal customs the soldier was.  He thanked the man politely, though; then he and Adam climbed down from the wall and went to pick up their rice.

    Late that night Inger lay in the tent with her head on Ben’s shoulder while their younger son sucked greedily at her breast.  “Some of the vomen down by the river were talking about trouble vith the Indians,” she said.

    “Yeah, I heard some talk at the fort, too,” Ben replied, “but I don’t think there’s been much real trouble, mostly just the fear of it.”

    “Yah, I think you are right,” Inger agreed.  “Ve have had no problems, except for the McTavishes.”

    “That’s because they were alone,” Ben said soberly.  “I haven’t heard of well-organized trains having any problems.  Lawrence says it was the same last year.”

    “They are such colorful people.  I vish I could speak their language and learn more of their vays,” Inger said, laying Eric down to sleep beside his brother.  She snuggled back against her husband’s chest.  “I think if ve knew them better, ve vould find them not so different from us and fear them less.”

    Ben idly fingered her hair.  “Probably.  I guess people are people, whether they call themselves Yankees or Swedes or Dakotas.  The Indian ways are different, though, like the way I told you they bury their dead.  Makes me wonder sometimes if the two ways of life can exist side by side.”

    “But why should it matter how they bury their dead?” Inger puzzled.

    “Not that so much, maybe,” Ben said, “but the Indian culture and that of the white man are different in so many ways, Inger.  Most of the Indians we’ve seen are nomadic, while we prefer settlements.  It’s not such a problem in places like this that aren’t heavily populated, but on the eastern edges of the frontier the Indians are being crowded out.  You can’t hunt buffalo down the streets of St. Louis, my love.”

    Inger laughed.  “Oh, Ben, what an idea!”

    Ben pulled her close.  “But don’t you see, sweetheart, buffalo once roamed that precise spot and Indians followed the herds.  Now they can’t, and that’s largely due to the encroachment of civilization.  What seems good to us must seem a tragedy to them.”

    “Are ve wrong to come west, then, Ben?”

    Ben lay back and stared at the canvas ceiling.  “I don’t know.  If we didn’t come, others would, but maybe that’s just an excuse.  I’d like to think this land was big enough for both, but talk like I heard at the fort today makes me wonder.”

    “I think ve vill not solve this problem tonight,” Inger said.  “Better ve should sleep and be ready for the journey tomorrow.”

    Ben laughed softly to avoid waking the boys.  “My practical little wife,” he whispered.  “Yes, it’s time to sleep.  Good night, my love.”  He kissed her forehead tenderly and fell asleep cradling her in his arms.


The Cartwrights and their fellow emigrants spent Wednesday morning unpacking and rearranging their wagon loads.  For most it was the first time since leaving St. Joseph that they had made such a thorough reorganization.  Now was the time, though, to begin using the supplies they had intended for the latter half of their journey.  Also, since they’d be heading into the mountains soon, it seemed prudent to unearth warmer clothes and winter coats from the lower level of their belongings.  They might need to get to them on short notice.

    Clyde Thomas had more adjustments to make than any of them.  First he had to retrieve his supplies from the trail mates who had generously carried them for him since his wagon raced to destruction down Windlass Hill.  Then he sorted out what he’d transfer to the cart——mostly his blacksmithing tools, but a few other items, as well.  Finally, like the others, he repacked what remained in his wagon.

    Following a simple lunch that required little preparation, the train lined up to leave just after noon.  Inger drifted back to the Payne wagon to walk alongside Rachel and compare notes on the growth of their babies.  She wiggled tiny Susan’s little fist and blew the baby a kiss.  “What a sweet little lady,” she cooed.

    “She looks like a plaything up against your boy,” Rachel laughed.  “I can see why you’re carrying him Indian-style.”

    Inger smiled over her shoulder at the youngest Cartwright, strapped into a cradleboard on her back.  “This vas Ben’s idea,” she said. “I think he is trying to turn us all into Indians vith his moccasins and the pemmican he bought yesterday and then this.  I can’t imagine how he talked that Cheyenne out of her cradleboard when she surely needed it herself; but I like it, even if it does make me look like a squaw.  Eric is such an armload, he vas wearing me out lifting him.”

    “I can imagine,” Rachel said quickly.  “Susan’s light, but I surely look forward to laying her down for her nap.”

    “She is a good sleeper?” Inger asked.

    “Just fair,” Rachel sighed.  “I guess your boy keeps you up nights, too.”

    “No,” Inger smiled proudly and just a bit mischievously.  “Eric is a good, considerate boy and lets his mama sleep so long as I fill his belly full before I lay him down.”

    “Now, do you hear that, Susan?” Rachel chided, tickling the little girl’s dainty chin.  “That’s the way a baby ought to treat her mother.”

    Inger giggled.  “I am sorry if I make you jealous.”

    Rachel looked lovingly into Susan’s hazel eyes.  “Not a bit,” she murmured.  “I’m quite content with what I have.  Have you noticed how much she looks like Johnny, Inger?”

    Inger stroked the golden hair fringing the baby’s face.  “Yah, they are much alike.  She is a comfort to you, I know.”

    “Oh, that she is,” Rachel agreed.  “I don’t know how I’d’ve stood losing my boy if I didn’t have this little one to care for.”

    “Yah, it is a blessing to be needed,” Inger said.  As the baby riding on her back let loose a loud cry, she gave her friend a wry smile.  “Oh, dear, it looks like I am needed right now.  I’d better get back to the vagon and feed this bottomless pit.”

    “You don’t have to go all that way,” Rachel said.  “Climb up in my wagon to nurse him.  That way we can keep visiting.”

    “All right,” Inger said, readily placing Eric into the Payne wagon and climbing in herself.  “I vill enjoy the company, but tell Susan no peeking.”

    “Hmph!” Rachel declared, affecting an offended expression as she lifted her blue muslin skirt to follow Inger in, “as if my little girl would take the least interest.  Now, tell me, have you tried Ben’s pemmican yet?”

    “Yah,” Inger said as she removed Eric from his confining cradleboard and unbuttoned her yellow calico bodice so he could nurse.  “Ve each took a small taste last night.  I vould not like it as a steady diet, but it vas quite good.  Better than salt pork, at least.”

    Rachel hooted.  “What isn’t?  Once we reach California, I swear there won’t a slab of it enter the house!”

    Inger smiled down at her greedily sucking baby.  Her tired taste buds agreed with Rachel, but her practical mind rejected her friend’s adamant statement.  Inger knew in her own heart she’d eat whatever necessity demanded to provide this healthy little eater with the nourishment he needed——and obviously relished.

    The terrain they traveled that day was almost barren——nothing to be seen but scattered sagebrush and a multitude of small, dried up ponds dotting the arid land around them.  While the country they walked through Thursday was still dry, still mostly bare, the wagoneers began to notice differences by mid-morning.  The landscape grew rockier, and in place of the sagebrush, the trail was edged with stunted pines.

    The appearance of the wood was timely, for the buffalo chips that had provided the main source of fuel on the prairie were in limited supply here on the western boundary of the shaggy beasts’ range.  The children rejoiced.  Free from the daily chore of gathering the dried patties, they had more time to explore the new specimens of flora and fauna they were encountering.  The men, on the other hand, found their workload increased as they worked nightly to wrest wood for their fires from the scrubby, but rock-rooted pine trees.

    Occasionally, they passed a broken-down wagon abandoned by its former owner and scavenged the boards for firewood.  One day Clyde found one with a wheel still in good condition and appropriated it.  Having divided his load, he now had room for spare parts, but hadn’t purchased any at Fort Laramie, thinking he could always dismantle the cart if he needed spares.

    The wagons rolled past Register Cliff that first morning out from Fort Laramie.  Seeing all the names carved into its side, Adam begged to add his own; but Ben refused.  “We don’t have time to make a special stop, son,” he explained.

    “Aw, Pa,” Adam whimpered.

    Ben lifted the boy into his arms.  “Son, I know you’re young and find it hard to understand, but our lives depend on making good mileage every day.  We’ve already had a lot of setbacks.  I’d like to put my name up there, too, but we can’t spare the time.”

    “All right,” Adam sighed, “but it sure seems a shame.”

    Ben gave him a squeeze.  “Yeah, I know.  I can’t make you a promise, Adam; but if we strike Independence Rock near noon or nighttime, we’ll try to leave our mark there.  How’s that sound?”

    “It sounds great, Pa!” Adam shouted.  “That’s the best place, too.”

    “Now, remember, Pa didn’t promise,” Ben cautioned as he set the boy down.  “I only said we’d try, and I think the chances are good ‘cause everyone else will want to, too.”

    “Yes, sir,” Adam said and ran excitedly back to tell Billy how high he planned to carve the letters of his name.

    As Ben and Inger walked side by side Friday, they saw more and more pine trees covering the bare rock.  Dotted here and there in the crevices, china asters bloomed.  Ben stooped to pick one and offered it to Inger.  “Here, my love,” he said, “a blossom whose beauty is rivaled only by your own.”

    Inger dropped an amused curtsey and accepted the floral offering.  Walking again, she took deep draughts of the pine-scented air.  “Doesn’t it smell fresh, Ben?”

    Ben sucked the air in greedily.  “Yeah, we’re moving into forest country for sure now.”

    “Even more ahead,” Inger said, pointing forward.  “See how dark those hills are.”

    “Must be why they call them the Black Hills,” Ben laughed.

    “Oh, do they?” Inger asked.  “Yah, it is a fitting name; they look black vith so many trees covering them.”  As they left the pale plains behind them, Inger breathed ever more deeply the evergreen scent of junipers and pines.  The country here didn’t really resemble Sweden, but the fragrance stirred old memories and made her feel a little homesick.  Seeing her distraction, Ben asked if anything were wrong.  “No,” Inger assured him.  “Something very right, I think.  If the land to which ve go is anything like this, I know it vill feel like home.”

    “Any land where you are will feel like home,” Ben said, pulling her close to his side, “but I’d like to settle somewhere near trees like these——though, maybe, a little taller.  Air this pure and invigorating is bound to make a man’s work more pleasurable.”

    “And grow him sons strong and straight as pines,” Inger said, her eyes shining up into his face.

    Ben touched the flower in her hand.  “And daughters beautiful as china asters,” he whispered.

    On Saturday the wagon train crossed two streams with water so clear the pebbly bottoms reminded Ben of cobbled streets.  Inger rejoiced when they made their noon stop near one.  She found the cool water refreshing to drink and even pulled off her shoes to wiggle her bare feet in its icy ripples.  Adam waded up and down the rivulet, shrieking happily in spite of his frozen feet and gathering smooth stones to stuff in his storage pocket in the wagon as a remembrance of the Rocky Mountains.  The fact that they weren’t really in the Rockies yet, as his father pointed out, didn’t matter an iota to Adam.

    By day’s end all the women in the party were sighing longingly for those pristine streams, for the earth they tramped that afternoon was such a deep red its dust stained their clothes.  How they wished they could return to that clear water and give them a thorough laundering!  The men weren’t concerned about dirty clothes, however; to them the richly colored soil was a signpost.  From the higher points of their path, they could look down and see the trail ahead, as plainly marked as if someone had painted a red stripe on the ground.

    The men met that night to determine whether to travel the following day.  Even Ebenezer Wentworth felt they should continue since they’d only journeyed three and a half days since their last stop.  Larrimore suggested they start an hour later than usual, however, so the minister might provide a bit of inspiration to their thoughts.  “That is,” Lawrence said, “if the Reverend feels he can hold himself to an hour.”

     “I’ll be brief,” Ebenezer pledged, “provided you promise to listen to me in my full, long-winded splendor our first Sunday in Sacramento.”  The male constituents of his congregation laughingly agreed.

    Wentworth kept his part of the bargain, so the train was on the move by eight o’clock Sunday morning.  As they crossed the ridge of the Black Hills, a sparse growth of needle-nosed fir began to cover the gray rock.  Ben was surprised to see snow still glistening in crevices.  Shivering, he imagined how much snow must have dusted these mountains the previous winter for there to be any left in August and recommitted himself to crossing the Sierra Nevadas before the first snow fell there.

    That afternoon Clyde Thomas trotted ahead to catch up with Ben.  “Take a gander to the left, Ben,” he said.  “We got company.”

    Ben looked southwest and saw the mounted warriors watching the wagons from an adjacent ridge.  “Nothing new, Clyde,” he said.  “We’ve had Indians watching us all along the trail.”

    “These look different, though,” Clyde said.  “They ain’t Sioux like we been seein’ lately.”

    Ben squinted to take a closer look.  “They are darker skinned, aren’t they?  Almost like the mulatto slaves we saw back in Missouri.  Built shorter and more stout, too.  I think they may be Crows.”

    “You an Indian expert now?” Clyde cackled.

    Ben chuckled.  “Nope.  I just remember what Robidoux told me back at his trading post.  He said the Black Hills were a dividing line between the Sioux and Crow nations.”

    “Must be Crow, then,” Clyde agreed.  “Did Robidoux say whether they be warlike?”

    “I think they all can be,” Ben stated, “but Robidoux did say the Crow tend to be brave, honorable people.”

    “Wouldn’t want to test it out myself,” Clyde said.

    “Nor I,” Ben admitted.  “I suspect they’ll leave us alone if we leave them alone.”

    “Might be a good idea to corral the livestock in the wagon circle, though,” Clyde said, “them injuns bein’ so close.  I think I’ll bring it up tonight.”

    “Sounds like a wise precaution,” Ben said.  “I’ll second your motion.”

    The train made camp that night near another clear creek, so the women did a hurried washing while their husbands chopped fuel for the supper fires.  Most of the red stains came out with vigorous scrubbing over the rough washboards, but the clothes were still too damp by morning to consider wearing in the chilly air.  Fortunately, the more complete laundering they’d done at Fort Laramie meant everyone had spare garments to change into.

    Like most of the other ladies, Inger spent Monday flapping first one garment and then another in the warm air until it dried.  She felt lonely with nothing but wet diapers to keep her company, for Ben wasn’t traveling with the train that morning.  Jonathan Payne had invited him to go hunting.  Ben felt selfish accepting the invitation when he had hunted so recently with Clyde, but Jonathan made it plain he preferred Ben’s company to that of anyone else.  That remark made Ben flush with pleasure:  it felt good to earn the esteem of a man whose opinion he valued; and when it came to hunters, Jonathan Payne was the best among them.

    Leaving early and wandering westward, the hunters crossed the path of some mountain goats, similar to the ones Adam had seen leaping above the entrance to Fort Laramie.  Firing quickly, Jonathan downed a ram and Ben a ewe.  “Good work, Ben,” Jonathan shouted.  “You’re getting to be quite a shot.”

    “Not as good as you,” Ben insisted.  “Looks like my boy will get that goat stew he wanted the other day.”

    “Sounds good to me,” Jonathan said as they walked toward the carcasses.

    Once the goats had been skinned and the meat tied to their saddles, the two friends started leading the horses forward to the point they expected to intersect the wagon train.  The goats, while small, would provide fresh meat for their families.  Not enough to go far, however.  Ben regretted that.  Inger’d probably insist on inviting the Thomases to share their stew, but it wouldn’t stretch further than that.  Still, Ben was content with their morning’s work, and by all appearances, so was Jonathan.

    Sighting the five buffalo grazing in a secluded valley below them, then, was an added bonus.  “Look at that, Ben,” Jonathan whispered excitedly.

    “Now, that’s a sight I never thought to see again,” Ben whispered back.

    Jonathan drew his rifle from his scabbard.  “I, for one, don’t aim to let a chance like this pass by.”  As he started throwing the goat meat off his saddle, Ben followed suit.  Jonathan was right.  If they could get a buffalo, there’d be meat for the whole camp, meat they’d likely be tasting for the last time in their lives.

    They walked the horses as close as they could to the shaggy bison.  Then, when the animals caught their scent and started to run, they urged the horses forward.  On the open plain the buffalo would probably have escaped, but there was less running room here.  Sharpshooter Jonathan brought down the first cow.  Ben had a longer chase, but his cow circled back when she encountered rocky ground, so he dropped her not far from where Jonathan’s buffalo had fallen.

    Giving a triumphant shout, Ben dismounted and raised his rifle in salute to his fellow hunter.  Jonathan looked up from his butchering to grin at Ben.  “The camp’ll eat good tonight!” he cried.  Suddenly, his grin faded.

    Seeing the fear on Jonathan’s face, Ben spun around and saw three Crow warriors, advancing fast.  Jonathan laid down his knife and quietly picked up his rifle, but Ben was watching the Indians too carefully to notice.  Riding up to the white men, one of the Crows leaped from his pony and, his face glowering, gestured toward the buffalo.  Ben didn’t really know sign language, but he understood immediately that the Indians were demanding the meat for themselves.

    Jonathan understood, too, and felt outraged by the red men’s attempt to take what he considered rightfully his.  He lifted his rifle to his shoulder and sighted it.  From the corner of his eye Ben saw the movement and, lunging toward Jonathan, grabbed the rifle’s barrel and pushed it upward just as the other man fired.  The bullet sped harmlessly skyward, but the Indians responded to the threat by drawing arrows from the quivers on their backs and fitting them to their bows.

    Ben turned quickly and raised his hands, palm outward.  He wasn’t sure how to convey what he intended, but he had to try.  Their arrows aimed at his chest, the Indians watched him cautiously, none of them moving.  Ben pointed to the buffalo he had shot and then to the Crow standing before him.  He pointed to the other buffalo and then to Jonathan.  Once again, he pointed to the buffalo his own rifle had felled, then pointed to the Crow.  When the Indian lowered his bow and nodded solemnly, Ben breathed a sigh of relief.  Somehow, despite his nontraditional sign language, the man had understood and accepted the offer to split the meat.

    Side by side, the two races butchered the bison in silence, each eyeing the other with watchful suspicion.  When the white men finished butchering their animal, Jonathan started to gather up the woolly hide.  The Crow who seemed to be the leader sprang to his feet and raised his knife in a threatening manner.

    Ben pushed his way between the two men, again raising his hands palm outward.  He pointed to the hide and, bringing his right hand out from his heart, held it inches from the Indian’s breast.  He was trying to offer the hide as a gift from one heart to another, all the time sending arrows of prayer flying heavenward that the gift would be received.  Something Ben could only describe later as respect glittered in the Indian’s dark eyes.  Keeping his knife pointed at Jonathan, he plucked the hide from the ground, then turned his back and walked away.

    Ben helped Jonathan load the horses with the meat.  Then each took the reins of his animal.  Raising his hand in final farewell to the Crows, Ben turned and walked away as the Indian had done earlier.  “Don’t look back,” he urged Jonathan under his breath.  “I think they’ll respect a show of courage.”

    “We’re dead pigeons if they don’t,” Jonathan muttered, but he did as Ben suggested.  Neither of them looked back until they topped the ridge from which they’d first seen the buffalo.  Gazing down into the valley once more, they saw the Crows riding away, leaving behind nothing but blood.  Unlike the white men, they would use everything the bison had to offer.  Ben and Jonathan retrieved the goat meat they’d left behind, its extra weight adding little to their horses’ loads, and headed once more toward where they expected to find the train.

    In the meantime, Inger and Rachel had grown steadily more worried.  The wagons had circled for their noon break two hours before; now they were ready to head out on the trail again and still no sign of Ben or Jonathan.  Never before had hunters been so late in returning to the train.  The wagons lined up, but just as Larrimore was about to give the order to move forward, Wentworth came running up from the rearmost one.  “They’re coming!” he shouted.  “Wait up, Larrimore; they’re coming!”

    Lawrence smiled in relief.  He, too, had felt concerned for the party’s missing members, but hadn’t known what to do except move on and hope they caught up by nightfall.  Inger and Rachel didn’t wait for their husbands to come to them.  Each deposited her baby with another woman and ran as fast as she could to meet her man.

    Inger arrived first.  “Oh, Ben, I vas so vorried,” she cried.  “What kept you?”

    Ben wrapped her in a strong embrace.  “Long story, my love.  I’ll tell you everything later.  Short version is we found extra meat.”

    “Not to mention a little squabble with some Indians over keeping it,” Jonathan added.

    “Oh, Jon!” Rachel shrieked.  “Not really?”

    “Ben?” Inger asked anxiously.  “You fought Indians?”

    “No, no,” Ben assured her.  “We ran into some, but worked out our differences peaceably.  I’ll explain it all later.  Let’s get on into camp and unload this meat, so the train can move on.”  The women weren’t satisfied with the explanations they’d received, but they understood the importance of what Ben had said.  The explanations would have to wait.

    Not until the emigrants made camp that evening near Ayers Natural Bridge was a full explanation offered.  All the women combined forces that evening to prepare their final feast of buffalo meat, and everyone ate together near the Payne’s wagon.  As they chewed the succulent meat, Jonathan regaled them with an account of their morning’s adventures that left the children wide-eyed with wonder and the adults breathless with excitement.

    “I must have been crazed to take aim at that brave with the odds against us,” Jonathan said, shame-faced.  “If Ben hadn’t pushed my rifle up to deflect my shot, we’d’ve had all-out war on our hands.”  Adam’s black eyes glowed with pride in his father’s fearlessness.

    “Now, Jonathan,” Ben said, “don’t make me out a hero.”

    “Be modest all you want, Ben,” Jonathan insisted.  “I was there and I know the truth.  I wouldn’t be sitting here enjoying this meat in the company of these fine friends if it hadn’t been for your good sense and courage.”

    “That Crow showed good sense and courage, too,” blushing Ben said, mostly to transfer the others’ attention off himself.  “I understand what Robidoux meant when he called them brave and honorable people.  They outnumbered us and could easily have taken what they wanted, but they were willing to be fair.”

    “They take the meat you shot and you call them fair!” McTavish snorted.

    Ben shook his head.  “Everything out here’s more properly theirs than ours,” he said.  “Imagine how you’d feel if someone walked into your smokehouse and grabbed the ham you were saving for Sunday dinner.”  McTavish shrugged.  He wasn’t sure he agreed with Ben’s analogy, but he figured that might be just how the Indians saw it.

    “I shouldn’t have shot that second buffalo in the first place,” Ben added with chagrin.  “With the goats we already had, one was enough for our needs; I just got carried away in the excitement of the hunt.  Small wonder the Indians find white men so wasteful.”

    “I’ve heard they make use of every part of the buffalo,” Clyde commented.

    “I believe it,” Jonathan said.  “They took everything, even the waste parts of our animal.”

    “What you considered waste parts,” Ben said with a smile.

    “I didn’t notice you bringing home the hooves,” Jonathan said wryly.  “Inger probably could have made a tasty soup out of them.”

    Ben chuckled.  “I imagine my resourceful wife could do just that, but I’m satisfied with this rump meat.”

    “Folks’ll eat ‘most anything if they’re hungry enough, I reckon,” Clyde chimed in.  “Remember the Donner party?  They ended up eating boiled hides to stay alive.”

    “And worse,” Ebenezer said gravely.  He didn’t need to elaborate.  Every man and woman there knew how those stranded emigrants of 1846 had resorted to cannibalism.  “God spare us that fate,” the minister added.

    “Amen to that, Reverend,” Maggie McTavish said, and the other women murmured their assent.

    “Shucks, with hunters like Ben and Jon here,” Clyde snickered, “we ain’t likely to run short of meat.  I say we give ‘em a healthy round of applause to say our thanks.”  To Ben and Jonathan’s embarrassment, everyone else stood to give them the suggested ovation.

    “Sit down, folks,” Ben begged.  “The best thanks you can give us is simply to enjoy the food.”

    Clyde sat down and forked another piece into his tin plate.  “Yup, that’s my favorite way to say thanks,” he cackled.

    Adam pulled on his father’s sleeve.  “Pa, could we go climb that bridge over there after supper?”

    In the dim light from the crescent moon above Ben could barely see the stone arch to the left of the trail.  “I don’t think so, Adam,” he said.  “Pa’s had enough adventure for one day.”  Adam wheedled a little more, but nothing could persuade his father.  Ordinarily soft-hearted where his boy’s wishes were concerned, Ben didn’t want to do anything that night but unwind in the presence of his loved ones.

    The next two days were blissfully uneventful.  The only adventures took place in the land of make-believe as Adam and his friends reenacted again and again Ben Cartwright’s encounter with the Indians.  Adam always demanded the part of his heroic father, while Billy refused any role but that of the Crow warrior.  They enlisted a more than willing Marta to portray Jonathan Payne.  Since Johnny’s death the little tomboy had had no one to play with, and she was so grateful to be included in the boys’ game that she didn’t care what character she represented.  Adam tried to follow the story he’d heard around the campfire; but Billy, wanting to make his depiction of the Indian brave as wild as he was sure Indians really were, insisted on shooting Marta with his imaginary bow and arrow.

    On Thursday the emigrants came to a bend in the North Platte.  Since the river wound southward from this point, they could no longer follow its course.  They’d have to cross here and head west over open ground.  Fortunately, the Mormons had established a ferry; for though the river was only three feet deep, everyone preferred the relative safety of a ferry.  The charge for transportation across the river was three dollars per wagon, the most reasonable fee they’d been assessed thus far.

    Larrimore confided to Ben that he was concerned McTavish might not have sufficient funds for even so nominal a toll; however, when the Scotsman’s turn came to cross, he paid the three dollars without comment.  Perhaps, Ben suggested to the wagon train’s captain, their trail mate’s financial state was not as strained as he had led them to believe; perhaps the man was simply exercising the famed frugality of his national heritage.

    Those who crossed the ferry early walked up to the nearby trading post while they waited for those behind.  Though the women always welcomed the chance to see what was offered, they found the store short on supplies.  And since most of what was available was priced high, almost everyone left without making a purchase.

    As the Cartwrights and Thomases walked back to their wagons, Clyde offered Ben a chaw of the tobacco he’d bought.  “No thanks,” Ben said.  “I smoke a pipe, but I’ve never chewed tobacco.”

    “Ought to try it sometime,” Clyde cackled.  “Gives you something to spit when you need to express some real strong feelin’s.”

    “Now, Clyde, you hush that,” Nelly scolded.  “Lands sakes!  These folks’ll think you were raised in a barn.  Why on earth you bought that truck, I’ll never know.  It was higher than a cat’s back.”

    “Ain’t it the truth?” Clyde said.  “I tell you these Mormons are making a killing out of this westward expansion.  Run most of the ferries; now, trading posts, too.”

    Ben arched an eyebrow.  “Don’t you figure Mormons have as much right to make a living as anyone else, Clyde?”

    Clyde gave the wad of tobacco in his mouth a vigorous chew.  “Not sure, Ben,” he responded.  “I hear they got some mighty peculiar ways, some of ‘em not fit to mention in front of the ladies.”

    “Well, I can’t condone polygamy, of course, if that’s what you’re referring to,” Ben said, “but I figure if a man’s enterprising enough to sight a good business opportunity, he’s got the right to take it.”

    “I reckon,” Clyde agreed.  “I just wish he wouldn’t take it out of my pocket!”  Wagging  his head, Ben chuckled.

    Though Larrimore had warned the others in the party that delays were frequent at the Mormons’ ferry, their train arrived on a slow day.  Despite striking the river in the afternoon, everyone safely reached the western shore by day’s end, and they camped a mile beyond the trading post.

    Ben knew he should have felt relieved to be able to cross so promptly, but at the back of his mind was an itch that wouldn’t stay scratched.  It was natural, he supposed, for the trains to spread out as they moved westward, and there were still wagon parties behind theirs.  Ben found himself wondering, though, if the uncrowded ferry meant they were slipping further and further to the rear of this year’s migration.  The implications of that troubled him.

    The following morning the eight-wagon party ascended a hill nearly one mile in length.  For the first time since leaving the Little Blue to intersect the Platte, their path was unmarked by a river; and although the emigrants had often complained about the turbid waters of the Platte, they felt they were leaving behind an old and trusted friend.

    Most of the ground they covered as they aimed their wagons westward was desert-like, covered only with sagebrush, but the surrounding blue-gray hills were fringed with dwarf cedars.  Later that morning the train passed three isolated mountains to the south, between them and the Platte.  Large patches of the mountains were bare red rock, devoid of life, but the vivid color made them vibrant.  The mountains were known as the Red Buttes, Larrimore said, and everyone agreed it was a perfect name.

    All morning the travelers had carefully kept their oxen from drinking from the small pools they’d passed.  No one wanted to risk losing their draught animals to alkaline sickness, and the red tint of the plants growing near the water indicated it was poisonous, at least to cattle.  As they passed Red Buttes, however, they found a healthful source of water in a small creek meandering through the valley and good, though somewhat overgrazed, grass.

    When the wagon train made its noon stop there, Larrimore told them that this would be the last good water and forage until they reached Willow Springs.  “I think we should push on and try to reach there tonight,” he said.

    “That’s a long drive for the oxen, isn’t it?” Payne asked.

    “It is,” Larrimore agreed, “but we can make it.  I think it might be in order, then, to take a day’s rest there.  Willow Springs is one of the best campsites in this part of the country.”

    “And the oxen can use the rest if we drive ‘em eighteen miles today,” Clyde commented.  “What you say, Wentworth?  Will the Almighty get uppity if we take Saturday off instead of Sunday?”

    “Clyde,” Ben muttered beneath his breath, but the minister heard him anyway.

    “It’s all right, Ben,” Ebenezer said.  “I can take a little teasing.  Allow me to point out, Mr. Thomas, that it was the seventh day on which the Lord rested from His creation.  Let me preach tomorrow, and I’ll be content to follow His example.”

    “Okay, Reverend,” Clyde chuckled, “but remember, no long-winded speechifyin’ ‘til Sacramento.”  The minister slapped Clyde on the back and said he’d try his best to resist temptation.

    “The Scripture tells us that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God,’” Wentworth told him small congregation Saturday morning.  “I suggest to you, my friends, that the very landscape through which we pass also gives us daily evidence of God’s glory.”  The minister reminded them of some of the spectacular scenery they’d already seen on their journey and the still more awesome sights waiting ahead.  “As we see all around us the handiwork of God,” Wentworth declared, “we understand anew how the Lord could look upon the results of His week of creation and call it good.  Refresh yourselves today in this most pleasant place, my friends; and as you do, lift your hearts in praise to the One who has given us richly all things to enjoy.”

    That day at Willow Springs was one of the most restful stops the Larrimore train made during their entire journey west.  The site itself was pleasant with its cold springs fringed with willows and its plentiful grass, but not more amiable than other places they had camped.  Somehow, though, this Saturday the emigrants saw more than just attractive scenery and adequate provision.  Because of the minister’s inspiring words, they saw the Hand of a loving Creator planning this place of peaceful repose eons before their births, planning it with the knowledge that they would stop here this very Saturday to refresh their bodies and reflect on His goodness.  Whether they spent their time at Willow Springs scrubbing shirts or napping beneath shady trees, they came away with a renewed sense of the grandeur of God and gratitude for the grace of His provision.


Leaving Willow Springs Monday morning, the emigrants began the ascent of Prospect Hill.  An hour’s steady climb brought them to the summit and rewarded their efforts with a magnificent, panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  To the south the Platte River twisted away from them, and beyond that the dark majesty of the Black Hills rose against the sky.  To the west, ahead of them, they saw the valley of the Sweetwater River, a level plain several miles in extent, shut in by the misty blue Rattlesnake Mountains.  No one, however, had time to gaze long upon the beauty of the scene:  they had not come as artists to admire and capture on canvas the glories of these mountains; they had come as conquerors, to wager their lives on their ability to bridge those heights.

    So they pressed on, making almost four more miles by the time they stopped at eleven for their noon break.  No one was tempted to linger there, either, for the only water available came from an ill-smelling slough.  Thankfully, Larrimore had warned his people to fill their barrels before leaving Willow Springs; so no one had to use alkaline water that could be fatal to oxen and, while not usually deadly to humans, could play havoc with their digestive systems.

    After a brief layover the wagons rolled another mile, then came to a hill that was steep both ascending and descending.  Moving up the sharp incline strained the oxen, but they were able to pull the loaded wagons to the summit without being double-teamed——with one exception.  Still achingly overloaded, the Larrimore oxen could not scale the hill without the help of extra draught animals.  Some of the other emigrants complained about the delay caused by Mrs. Larrimore’s foolish attachment to her belongings, but none thought it likely they could persuade her to abandon them.  So they waited, keeping their impatient mutters low, forgetting their irritation once they were again wheeling west.

    About three o’clock that afternoon Larrimore ordered the wagons unhitched and the oxen watered in a small, but clear creek.  “It’s too early to make camp,” Payne grumbled.  “We’ve lost enough time today.”

    “I didn’t say make camp,” Larrimore snapped, disgruntled by the veiled criticism of the delay his wagons had caused.  “I said to water the stock.  There is a creek ahead where we’ll make camp, but it’s even smaller than this and can’t be relied on for water.”

    “What about grass?” Ben asked.  “Do we need to let the oxen graze here, too, Lawrence?”

    Lawrence smiled at Ben’s respectful attitude.  “No, Ben, I don’t believe that will be necessary.  There should be plenty of grass.  No wood, however, so any fuel you can pick up along the trail will come in handy.”

    “Appreciate the advice,” Ben said and headed back to unhitch his team.

    Passing him on the way to his own wagon, Jonathan stopped.  “You’re too easy on that man, Ben,” he chided.  “The delays he and that woman have caused us—”

    “We’ve all caused delays one place or another,” Ben replied.

    Jonathan blew out an exasperated breath.  “Not like them,” he insisted.

    “He’s the captain, Jon,” Ben said quietly, “and on the whole, a good one.  The advice he just gave us seems sound to me.”

    Jonathan shrugged.  “We’ll see, I guess, when we get to that other creek.”  He slapped Ben’s back in friendly farewell and went to water his oxen.

    When they reached that trickling creek an hour and a quarter later, Jonathan was forced to admit that Lawrence’s experience had spared them another night of watering their stock from the now dwindling casks.  The campsite was exactly as the wagon train leader had pictured it:  plentiful grass, little water, no wood.  Those who heeded his advice to gather fuel along the way, though, already had enough sagebrush to build their cook fires.

    Early the next morning the train arrived at Greasewood Creek and refilled their water kegs.  Though the creek was six feet wide, it was only one foot deep, so the wagons forded it easily.  The road beyond, however, was difficult as the oxen’s hooves sank in the deep sand.  The sudden rainstorm that hit mid-morning didn’t help, either.  It lowered the temperature, which would have been a boon earlier in their journey.  Here, although the calendar read August nineteenth, the altitude meant the daytime temperature was rarely above the low sixties, anyway, and the nights even colder.  The chilly rain only made the travelers shiver, and despite the rocky nature of the ride, most of the women and children opted for traveling inside the wagons.

    The rain turned the ground into a spongy bog that slowed the animals’ pace still more.  When they reached an alkali spring set in a valley almost surrounded by high hills, the land there was swampy and the water unsafe to drink.  When stirred, it turned black and smelled so bad no one was willing to risk its use for either cooking or watering the oxen.  Once again, the emigrants used the water they had carried with them and counted themselves blessed to have it.  The cattle, however, wanted more, so the men were kept busy making sure they didn’t stray toward the black pools.

    While the men herded cattle and the women prepared lunch, Adam, Billy and Marta ran to a dry lake, whose bed seemed virtually untouched by the earlier shower, and scooped up all the white powder covering the ground their pails could hold.  Adam had read in his father’s guidebook that such dry lakes provided saleratus pure as any you could buy in a store, and he was eager to test it out.  Marta hoped to save her mother the cost of a fresh supply at the next trading post by her efforts here.  Billy’s motives, on the other hand, were neither scientific nor economical; to him it was just a game in which he was a prospector digging for gold.  Even his fertile imagination, however, had a hard time seeing shiny nuggets in his pail full of dry, white saleratus.

    Some sand also found its way into the pail of saleratus Adam proudly presented Inger; but she sifted it out and, mostly to please him, used the leaven Adam had harvested in the biscuits she stirred up to go with a lunch of bacon and beans.  To her surprise and Adam’s scientific satisfaction, the saleratus did a commendable job of making the biscuits rise.  Adam offered to dig up some more for her, but Inger assured him an entire pail of saleratus was sufficient for their current needs.  “Besides,” she suggested, “since ve vill leave soon, you should tell Jamie all about your discovery, yah?”

    “Oh, yeah,” Adam said.  “I almost forgot.”  He immediately retrieved his journal from his storage pocket and wrote a quick entry about finding natural saleratus at Alkali Springs and the better-than-usual (in Adam’s opinion) biscuits it had produced.

    As the train headed west that afternoon, the clouds above began to darken once more; and before an hour had passed, rain was again pelting down with little sign of letup.  Not even the wagons provided complete protection from the icy droplets.  Though the white covers had been waterproofed before the emigrants left, with time and use they lost some of their ability to shed water; and the rain leaked through here and there.  Despite their slow progress over gummy ground, the eight wagons reached the Sweetwater River that day.  Though they had hoped to ford it before encamping, no one wanted to attempt crossing in the rain; and by the time it stopped, it was too late.

    The next morning’s sky was clear, although a heavy haze hung over the surrounding mountains.  While the women prepared breakfast, the men examined the river.  Ben returned and accepted the plate of pancakes and bacon his wife handed him.

    “Is the river much deepened by the rain?” Inger asked.

    His mouth full, Ben nodded, then swallowed.  “Some.  It’s no more than about two and a half feet deep, though, so we’ll try to ford it.”

    “Ah, that is good,” Inger said.  “Ve vill lose less time that vay.”

    Ben started to agree; but hearing a piercing shriek from the encampment to their right, he jerked in that direction.  “We can’t!” he heard Camilla Larrimore scream.  “It isn’t safe, Lawrence.”

    “Oh, dear,” Inger murmured.

    Lawrence Larrimore was trying to quiet his wife.  “Shh, sweetheart,” he whispered urgently, hoping no one would hear her cries of frantic fear.  “The men have voted; we must abide by their decision.”

    “But you’re the captain!” Camilla squealed.  “Make them caulk the boats and float.”

    “I’m captain, yes,” Lawrence explained patiently, “but that means leader, Camilla, not dictator.”

    “Well, maybe what this train needs is a dictator, then,” Camilla whimpered, “instead of all these ‘democratic’ meetings.  They take more time than caulking the wagons would.”

    “Maybe you’d rather we took time to build a bridge!” Lawrence said hotly.

    “Yes, I would, as a matter of fact!”  Even Camilla, though, knew that alternative was out of the question.

    Lawrence finally did what he should have done in the first place.  He took his wife in his arms and held her tight.  “Trust me, sweetheart,” he pleaded.  “I won’t let harm come to you——nor to any of your precious things if I can avoid it.”

    In the security of her husband’s arms, Camilla calmed down.  She still trembled with fear as she finished cooking breakfast and made preparations to leave, but she felt resigned to the crossing.  Fortunately for her nerves, the Larrimore wagons were in the lead that day, so her trial would soon be over.  As the first wagon approached the river, Inger came to stand beside Camilla, putting her arm around the woman who, though six years older, seemed so childlike and helpless in this situation.

    Camilla smiled weakly up at Inger.  “I suppose you heard everything Lawrence and I said to each other this morning?”

     “Almost,” Inger said with a gentle smile.  The conversation, after all, had been carried on at the volume of a pig hollering contest.

    Camilla sniffled nervously.  “I know everyone thinks I behave badly, but I just can’t help myself, Inger.  I have an absolute horror of rivers.”

    “Does it not help to know how many ve have crossed safely?” Inger asked quietly.

    “No, nothing helps,” Camilla sighed.  She looked toward the mountains, and her eyes grew misty.  “I think, maybe, it’s the memory of my brother.”  She turned back to gaze into Inger’s sympathetic eyes.  “When I was seven, my younger brother wandered down by a creek near my parents’ home.  Before any of us realized he was missing, he’d slipped in and drowned.”

    Inger’s arms tightened around the merchant’s wife.  “Oh, I am so sorry.  Have you alvays been afraid of vater, then?”

    “I guess so,” Camilla admitted, “but I didn’t really have to face it ‘til now.  Mostly, I just stayed clear of creeks and rivers and kept the children away, too.”  The anxiety in her eyes deepened.  “Now, because I wouldn’t let Lawrence teach them, they don’t even know how to swim.  I know everyone thinks it’s my goods I worry about, but what I’m really afraid of losing is one of my children.”

    “But the vater is not deep,” Inger reasoned.  “Surely, you do not fear they vill drown in such shallow vater.”

    Camilla jerked away, turning her back to the river.  “I know it’s an unreasonable fear, Inger; that doesn’t make it less real.  Besides, everything I need to make a decent home for my children is in those wagons——food, clothing and, yes, even the finer things.  If they’re lost—”

    Inger stepped close to brush the tears from Camilla’s cheeks.  “Look across the river,” she said softly.  “Your first vagon is already across, and who is that I see beside it?”

    Camilla turned and laughed in relief.  “My babies,” she whispered.  She gave Inger a quick hug.  “Thanks for distracting me, dear friend.  I—I think I’ll run across now and give my darlings a kiss.”

    “You still have a vagon left to ford over,” Inger teased.

    “I don’t care,” Camilla said, her voice still shaky.  Then, she laughed lightly.  “Besides, that one’s just full of Lawrence’s store goods, anyway.”

    Inger giggled.  She suspected Camilla was teasing, but thought it a good thing Mr. Larrimore hadn’t heard the comment.  After that morning’s squabble he might not feel charitable about his wife’s nonchalant attitude toward his merchandise.

    All eight wagons, along with Clyde’s cart, made the crossing easily, then rumbled on toward Independence Rock, where they halted for the midday break.  Even before the wagons circled, Adam started trotting toward the huge landmark.  Ben jogged after him and grabbed his brown britches by the waistband.  “No, you don’t, son,” he ordered.

    “But, Pa, you said—”

    Ben laid a broad-palmed, but hardly heavy, swat against Adam’s backside.  “Don’t you ever take off alone like that, boy!  Besides, chores come first.  You fetch your mother whatever water she needs for cooking.  Then when I’ve watered the stock, we’ll climb Independence Rock together.”

    Adam’s mouth puckered, but he didn’t argue.  He’d never seen it pay with Pa, anyway, especially not when Adam knew he was in the wrong.  He knew he was expected to see to it his mother had water for cooking and was usually glad to help.  Today was special, though, but Pa couldn’t seem to understand that a sight as grand as Independence Rock just naturally took a boy’s mind off chores.  Wondering why parents never understood really important things, Adam grumbled under his breath, but got the water bucket from the wagon and headed toward the river.

    The needed chores were soon done, and an excited Adam gamboled happily at his father’s side as they approached the huge rock to the right of the trail.  “Do you know how big Independence Rock is, Adam?” Ben asked.

    “I read it in the guidebook, Pa, but I don’t remember,” Adam said.

    “Six hundred yards long and one hundred and twenty wide,” his father reminded him.

    “Oh, yeah,” Adam said, “and a hundred foot high.”

    The two Cartwrights had only a short walk; for the southwest end, where they would make their ascent, lay near the river, not far from where Adam had drawn the water for his mother.  They started up the narrow trail to the top of the granite formation.  Sometimes the path constricted until there was barely room for Ben’s feet; and while Adam’s were smaller, it was the boy Ben feared for as pebbles rattled beneath their steps and threatened to make them skid back to the bottom of the hill.

    Ben found himself wishing he’d never promised Adam they would carve their names here at the giant registry of the overland trail, but he couldn’t bring himself to disappoint the boy now.  With his heart in his throat and a prayer on his lips, Ben helped Adam up the steepest spots and found his reward in his son’s joyous face when they reached the summit.

    “We made it, Pa!” Adam crowed.

    “We sure did,” Ben said, feeling both relieved and happy.

    “Now we can carve our names, and everyone will know we were here,” Adam announced.

    Ben chuckled.  “Let’s look around a bit first, shall we?  I’d like to read some of these other names, and then we can decide where to put ours.  All right with you?”

    Adam frowned.  “I guess so.”  It seemed the safest answer.

    Ben caught the boy’s lack of enthusiasm, but he knew some of the engravings on this rock went back many years.  He wanted to see if he could find some of the oldest ones.  Most of the names they read on the rock were, of course, those of ordinary people who had passed this way before them.  As soon as Ben thought that, however, he shook his head.  No one who made this journey could be considered ordinary.  Just by starting out, they’d set themselves apart from the mass of men, those content to rest in padded chairs and warm their toes at blazing fireplaces.

    Ben started to laugh at the contradiction between his admiration for bold adventurers and his dream of building a home as cozy as that of those who never ventured past their own hearths.  Before Adam could ask what his father found amusing, though, the laughter broke with an abrupt gasp of delight.  “Look at that, Adam!” Ben cried, pointing to a name carved in the granite.

    “Frémont,” Adam read slowly.  “We don’t know anyone called Frémont, do we, Pa?”

    Ben roared with laughter as he caught Adam around the waist.  “Maybe, you don’t, boy,” he said, “but your pa sure does!  Well, actually, I don’t know him personally, but I know who he is.”

    “Who is he, Pa?” Adam asked, interested by the importance his father seemed to attach to the unknown name.

    “John Charles Frémont,” his father said.  “He was a famous explorer, son, who helped map out this whole area we’ve been traveling through.  It was reading about his expedition that helped feed my interest in coming west.”

    Adam grinned as he looked again at the name.  If this Frémont was responsible for their trip west, he really was important.  Wandering a short distance away, Adam found cause for excitement himself.  “Come here, Pa,” he shouted.  “Here’s a real old one.  He must be an explorer, too.”

    Ben took three long steps to reach Adam’s side and read the date to which the boy pointed, 1836.  “You’re right, Adam,” he said.  “That’s the oldest date I’ve seen.”

    “I wasn’t even born then,” Adam said in awe.  “Were you, Pa?”

    Ben chuckled.  “Yes, son, I’m afraid your pa’s that old.  In fact, I was just twice your age now in 1836.”  Adam’s forehead wrinkled.  He couldn’t figure out how old that made his father.

    Seeing the puzzlement in the boy’s eyes, Ben lifted Adam’s chin with his index finger.  “How much is seven plus seven, Adam?”

    “Fourteen,” Adam answered readily.  He relished arithmetic as much as ever and was always speedy in running sums.

    “That’s how old I was in 1836,” Ben explained.  Adam nodded, but his brow remained furrowed.  He couldn’t imagine his father ever being that young.  Why, Pa was old; anyone living in 1836 had to be old.

    As Ben and Adam made their way around the rock, they came across the names of other explorers like Bonneville and DeSmet.  The best surprise, however, came late in their personal exploration of Independence Rock.  Adam spotted the familiar name first.  “Pa, Pa!” he screamed with excitement.  “It’s Uncle John.”

    Ben grinned broadly as he read his brother’s name inscribed in stone.  “You’re right, boy!” he shouted, giving Adam a quick hug.  “I think we’ve found the perfect place to leave our mark, don’t you?”

    “Oh, yeah!” Adam cried.  “Us Cartwrights has gotta stick together.”

    “We Cartwrights,” his father corrected.  “Goodness, Adam, what would Mr. Edwards make of that abominable sentence you just constructed?”

    Adam giggled.  “He’d make me wear the dunce cap, huh?”

    Ben ruffled the boy’s black hair.  “I doubt it, but he might make you copy a corrected version a hundred times.”

    Adam frowned.  He’d had to do lines a few times in Josiah Edwards’ classroom.  As punishments went, it wasn’t hard; but it sure did get boring.  Still, even lines were better than the shame of sitting on a stool with that conical dunce cap marking you a dummy for all to see.

    Ben laughed at his son’s expression.  “Relax, Adam.  No dunce cap and no lines.  One of the advantages to your classroom on the prairie, eh?”

    When Adam gave him a relieved grin, Ben smiled back and started to carve the three names of his family next to his brother’s inscription.  Somehow, it seemed fitting to Ben for his name to stand side by side with John’s.  Fitting, and almost prophetic——like a promise that they’d stand side by side in California when their names, like those who’d gone before, were weathered by the passage of time.

    Satisfied with their handiwork, Ben and Adam descended the hill only to receive a sound scolding from Inger.  “You are very late for lunch,” she chided.  “There is less than an hour until ve again move the vagons and you have not eaten.”

    “I’m sorry, Inger,” Ben said, his voice sounding contrite, but his lips twitching with amusement.  “You can’t imagine the famous names we found up there, though.”

    “I’m sure it vas all very interesting,” Inger said tersely, “but you vill have to tell me about them later.  Now you must eat, so I can have things clean and packed avay in time to leave vith the others.”

    “Are you sure you don’t want to hear about Captain Frémont first?” Ben teased as he scooped a helping of beans into his tin plate.

    “Yah, I am sure,” Inger muttered.  Honestly, she thought, why did men have to be so perverse?  Even Eric had been fussy during today’s nooning; and now that she’d finally gotten him settled down for a nap, here was Ben deliberately being bothersome.

    “What about Benjamin Bonneville, then?” Ben persisted, oblivious to his wife’s glowering countenance.  “He’s quite famous, you know.”

    “I don’t know,” Inger snapped.  “What I do know is that if you do not eat now, I vill not finish my vork!”

    Ben winked at his son.  “Well, then, Adam, I guess we can’t tell her about the most special name of all, can we?”

    “No, sir, we sure can’t,” Adam giggled.  “I don’t want to get in trouble.”

    “Me, either,” his father agreed, “but it seems a shame we can’t tell your mother about that most famous of all California trailsmen, John Cartwright.”

    Suddenly, the irritation dropped from Inger’s features, and she grabbed Ben by both arms.  “John?  You found John’s name?”

    “Couldn’t say,” Ben mumbled, his mouth full of beans.  “I’m not allowed to discuss what we saw.”

    Inger gave her husband an exasperated shake.  “You are the most provoking man!” she accused.  “Did you see John’s name or not?”

    Ben laughed.  “I did, Inger, and carved each of our names beside his.”

    “Ah, that is good,” Inger sighed contentedly.  “Yah, that vas vorth coming in late.  You are forgiven, bad boys.”

    Having delivered their news, Ben and Adam dutifully gobbled down their meal and helped Inger clear things away again.  Consequently, when the rest of the Larrimore train was ready to pull out, so were the Cartwrights.  An uneventful afternoon’s drive brought them to Devil’s Gate, where they would spend the night, at about 3:30.

    The early stop meant the men finished their daily chores long before sundown.  Seeing Ben bring in a load of sagebrush, Clyde sauntered over to the Cartwright’s wagon.  “You finished chorin’, Ben?” he asked.

    “I think so,” Ben replied.  “You need anything else, Inger?”

    “No,” Inger said.  “Adam is getting vater, and I should need nothing else until dinner time.”

    “I’m done, too,” Clyde announced, “and I got me a hankerin’ to see that Devil’s Gate over yonder.  Want to come, Ben?”

    Ben shrugged.  “Oh, I don’t know.  It’s just the river running through some rocks.”

    Clyde cackled.  “Some rocks, he says!  That’s the Rattlesnake Mountains, Ben!”

    “Oh, Ben has seen so many mountains lately, they all look alike to him,” Inger teased.

    Ben chuckled.  “Yeah, I’m getting plumb jaded out on scenery.  I’ll walk over with you, though, Clyde, just for the company.”

    “Fine, fine,” Clyde grinned.

    As the men headed toward the east end of Devil’s Gate, Nelly came to stand by Inger.  “Not like Ben to show so little interest in a new sight,” she said.  “He ain’t ailin’?”

    “I think he is just tired,” Inger said.  “He and Adam had quite a climb this afternoon.  Had you heard they found the name of Ben’s brother at Independence Rock?”

    “You don’t say!” Nelly enthused.  “Now, I know that was a thrill for Ben.  No way Devil’s Gate could live up to that, I reckon.”

    Adam arrived with the bucket of water he’d been sent for.  “Mama, can I have the pail?” he asked eagerly.

    “Why do you need it, Adam?” his mother asked.

    “I found some more saleratus,” Adam explained, “and this looks real white, not sandy like what I got you before.  You want some, don’t you?”

    “Yah, sure,” Inger said.  “But just one pail, mine son.  Ve must leave some for those who come after.”

    Adam laughed loud.  “You’re so silly, Mama.  There’s enough there for a hundred wagon trains.”

    Inger wiggled his nose.  “Vell, perhaps a hundred vill come.  One pail, Adam.”

    “Okay,” he said as he climbed into the back of the wagon.

    “Now, what will you do with more saleratus?” Nelly whispered.  “Didn’t the boy bring you a whole bucket the other day?”

    “It keeps him from mischief,” Inger said with a smile.

    A sudden twinkle sparkled in Nelly’s eye.  “Billy!” she called.  “Go along with Adam and get me a bucket of saleratus,” she ordered.  She turned to Inger.  “Well, I guess we’ll just have to stir up extra batches of biscuits from here on in.”

    “Or batches of extra big biscuits,” Inger teased, referring to the rising properties of saleratus.  Nelly flapped her hand in response to Inger’s nonsense and went back to start supper, including that extra large batch of biscuits.

    While Adam and Billy were busy scooping superfluous saleratus, Ben and Clyde were picking their way down the narrow canyon where the Sweetwater River forced its way between almost perpendicular rocks rising four hundred feet or more above them.  “Must have been volcanoes here at one time,” Ben commented.

    “How can you tell?” Clyde asked.

    Ben pointed to the dark rocks scattered throughout the passage.  “See those black rocks?  They’re like what I saw near the volcanoes in Hawaii.”

    “Owyhee?” Clyde repeated.  “Don’t tell me you been to the Sandwich Islands?”  When Ben nodded, Clyde laughed.  “Where ain’t you been, Ben Cartwright?”

    Ben chuckled.  “All kinds of places, Clyde.  It’s a big world out there.”

    “You gonna be content to settle in one part of it,” Clyde asked, “or are you just a natural born wayfarer?”

    “I enjoyed seeing the world when I was sailing,” Ben admitted, “but I think I’ve had my fill of the wayfaring life.  What I want now is a home and a family.  When you get right down to it, it’s more satisfying to build your own society that to spend your life visiting those of others.”

    “To build a society,” Clyde said thoughtfully.  “Lofty ambition, Ben.  Most of us never think past building our own homes.”

    “The most basic part of a society,” Ben said.  “Everything else is just an outgrowth of our need to provide a better life for our families.”

    Clyde stroked his rusty chin whiskers.  “Reckon so, reckon so.”  Suddenly, a yellow glitter in the water caught his eyes.  Clyde stooped down to grab up a handful of gravel from the river bottom.  “Ben!” he shouted, fingering some shiny specks from the mud.  “Lookee there!  Ain’t that gold?”

    Ben squatted down beside Clyde.  “I don’t know.  Sure is shiny enough.  I don’t know much about minerals, Clyde, but I don’t see how it could be.”

    “Now, why be so all fired pessimistic?” Clyde grumbled.

    Ben stood up.  “Just seems reasonable that someone would already have discovered gold here, if that’s what it is.  Think of how many emigrants have passed this way before us, my friend.”

    “Yeah, but they had their sights on Californy,” Clyde insisted.  “I figure this is worth checking out, anyway.  Bet Larrimore would know how to test it.”

    “Yeah, he should,” Ben admitted.  “Take him a sample, then, and see if you’ve struck it rich, Clyde.”

    “If I have, I’ll cut you in for a share, Ben,” Clyde promised excitedly.  “That society of yours don’t run on pure dreams, do it?”

    Ben laughed.  “No, it sure doesn’t.  All contributions appreciated.”

    Clyde didn’t have a miner’s pan with him, so he couldn’t sift out too much of the glittery substance in the time he had.  After about twenty minutes work, though, he figured he had a sizable enough sample to show Larrimore.

    When Clyde produced his new-found riches, however, Lawrence laughed so hard he had to hold his stomach.  “Throw it away, Clyde,” he hooted.  “Throw it away.”

    “It isn’t gold, is it?” Ben asked with a told-you-so wink at Clyde.

    “No, it isn’t,” Lawrence said, finally getting his voice under control.  “Don’t feel bad, though, men; you aren’t the first to be fooled by yellow mica.  Some of the men in my party last year toted bags of it with them to California.  The assayer had himself a good laugh at their expense.”

    “Theirs?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow.  “You didn’t fall for it, then?”

    Lawrence turned crimson, embarrassed at being caught covering up his own mistake.  Then he realized he was among friends.  “Well, as a matter of fact—” he began.

    “Hah!  You got suckered in like the rest, didn’t you, Larrimore?” Clyde guffawed.

    “Toted in the biggest bag of the bunch,” Lawrence admitted, grinning.

    As the story made the rounds from campfire to campfire that night, Camilla scolded her husband for putting himself down in the eyes of the others in their party.  “How do you expect the men to respect you as captain if you tell them what a fool you were?” she chided him.  Although Camilla didn’t realize it, her husband’s admission of fallibility had actually raised his stature with the other men.  Being imperfect creatures themselves, they found it easier to accept a leader with failings of his own than one who portrayed himself as the paragon of every manly virtue.

    Wednesday’s march continued along the base of the Wind River range of the Rocky Mountains.  Though the highest peaks rose no more than two thousand feet, these mountains were far loftier than the Sweetwater range and demonstrated that the Rockies deserved their name.  Their jagged, snow-covered heights, barren of vegetation or even soil to grow it, formed a majestic mural to refresh eyes weary of the flatness of the plains.

    While his parents admired the picturesque beauty of the scene, Adam stared at the snow-packed slopes and sighed.  “What’sa matter?” Billy asked.

    “I was just wishing I could borrow that sled my friend Jamie got last Christmas,” Adam said.  “Think how fast you’d fly down that!”

    Billy picked up a pebble and tossed it at a lizard sunning himself on a nearby rock.  “Don’t be a dunce,” he snorted, irritated that his aim was off.  “You’d crack your noggin wide open on them rocks.”

    “Oh, yeah?” Adam demanded.  “What do you know?”

    “I seen what ole Windlass Hill did to Pa’s wagon,” Billy declared.  “I ain’t so stupid I gotta be shown twice.  Mountains is dangerous!”

    “Well, wishing ain’t!” Adam insisted.  “That’s all I was doing.”

    “Might as well wish for the moon,” Billy snickered.  “Me, I’m just wishing for apple pie for supper.”

    Adam stuck his tongue out.  “Might as well wish for the moon,” he taunted and took off at a run with Billy close behind.

* * * * *

    “Adam,” Ben called loudly.  “Come here, son.”

    Adam trotted forward from his place at Billy’s side.  “What you want, Pa?” he asked.  “It ain’t time to stop yet, is it?”

    Ben lifted his son up in his arms.  “No, it isn’t,” he said, emphasizing the correct form of the verb.  “I just wanted you to see what’s ahead.”

    Adam peered forward.  “More mountains, Pa; that’s all I see.”

    Ben pointed to the cleft in the Granite range to their west.  “See that V-shape there, son.  That’s Split Rock.”

    Adam wriggled in his father’s embrace.  “Chimney Rock was more interesting, Pa.”

    Ben tickled the boy’s ribs.  “Oh, you and your Chimney Rock!”

    Adam squealed.  “Stop, Pa, stop.”

    Ben gave the boy’s side a final pat and obligingly quit.  “Don’t you know what Split Rock means, boy?” he asked.  Adam shook his head.

    “I admit it’s not as interesting-looking a formation as some of the others we’ve seen, but it’s more important.  You see, if we line ourselves up with that cut in the ridge, it’ll lead us straight to South Pass.”

    “Oh,” Adam said, “and we sure gotta find that!”  He knew from his father’s guidebook that South Pass was the way the wagons would get through the Rocky Mountains.

    “We sure do,” Ben laughed as he set the youngster down.  “Run back and keep Billy company now, but be sure to mark down in your journal that you saw Split Rock today.”

    “I will, Pa,” Adam promised, hurrying toward the Thomas wagon.  He pulled up abruptly and scurried back to his father.  “Pa?” he asked.  “Are we real close to South Pass?  Will we get there today?”

    Ben roared with laughter.  “Mercy, no, boy!”  Seeing the boy’s downcast face, Ben patted his shoulder.  “Not today, son,” he said kindly, “but we should be there sometime within the next week.”

    Adam grinned.  “Then, we’ll for sure be gettin’ close to California, right, Pa?”

    Ben chuckled.  “Well, closer, anyway.  Go on now, son.  Billy looks plumb lonesome for you.”

    As Adam left, Inger smiled at Ben.  “I’m sure it is Eric Billy is missing, Ben.  Perhaps, I should send him back.”

    “I bet Nelly’d be pleased to have him,” Ben teased, “and I wouldn’t mind.  Then, I could get my arm around you easier.”

    “Don’t tempt me,” Inger moaned softly.  “You don’t know how much our little son weighs.”

    Ben stroked the baby’s plump chin.  “He’s a fine, brawny boy, Inger.”

    “Yah,” Inger smiled.  “He reminds me of Gunnar as a baby——only bigger!”

    “Want me to tote him awhile?” Ben asked.

    “Oh, no, Ben,” Inger demurred.  “You have enough vork tending the stock.  Besides, I vas only teasing; I’m not really tired yet.  Ve have only been on the trail an hour this morning.”

    “Is that all?” Ben asked dryly.  “Feels like months to me.  Like Adam, I wish we’d get to South Pass today.”

    Inger giggled.  “Are you sure you don’t mean Sacramento?”

    “No,” Ben joked.  “I can wait ‘til tomorrow for that.  I’m a patient man.”

    Inger laughed.  “Yah, sure you are.  So patient you start looking for your next meal the minute the last one ends.”

    Just then, Eric started to whimper.  “Like father, like son,” Ben snickered, for the sunny-dispositioned baby rarely cried unless he was hungry.  Shaking her head at her playful husband, Inger slipped the cradleboard from her back, lifted the baby into the wagon, then climbed in after him to let him nurse.

    Inger spent most of the afternoon in the wagon, not because of Eric, but because another rainstorm deluged the train shortly after they left their noon encampment.  Despite the soggy ground, however, the train still reached its intended goal of Three Crossings in time to make their night camp there on the banks of the Sweetwater River.

    The men debated long after dark the choice of routes that lay before them.  If they took the north trail, they’d have to cross the Sweetwater three times within a mile and a half, and while the southern route only crossed the river once, the oxen would have to trudge through deep sand.

    As the discussion continued, Ben took another look in the guidebook to see if it expressed an opinion.  Both routes had advantages; both had drawbacks.  Ben’s brow furrowed as he reread the final line of description.  Getting the attention of the other men, he read that last line aloud:  “quicksand possible after rain.”

    The others sat silent for a moment, each remembering the rain that had soaked them all afternoon.  “That’s in my book, too,” Jonathan said, “but I’d forgotten it.  I vote we take the north trail.”

    “Aye,” McTavish agreed.  “Rivers are bothersome, but quicksand’s more risky.”

    “We don’t know there’s quicksand,” Wentworth pointed out.  “We do know the risks of river crossings.”

    “Some more than others,” McTavish mumbled.  Wentworth flushed, but made no response.

    “We can’t debate all night,” Clyde grumbled.  “Call for the vote, Larrimore.”

    “All right,” Lawrence agreed.  “I believe, as Clyde says, we’ve talked enough.  Those in favor of the north trail, say ‘aye.’”

    Ben, Clyde, Jonathan, Robert and Stefán responded.

    “Those for the south trail, same sign,” Larrimore said.

    “I believe you and I are the only ones left,” Wentworth said with a smile.  “I don’t really know what’s best, so I’m willing to abide by the judgment of these good men.”

    “We travel north, then,” Lawrence said.  “I think it’s a good choice, men.”

    “You didn’t vote for it,” McTavish pointed out.

    “Had my reasons,” Lawrence muttered.

    As the Cartwrights lay in their tent that night, they were sure they knew their captain’s main reason for not adding his voice to those who voted to ford the river three times.  Long into the night they heard Camilla Larrimore’s mournful wails sounding in counterpoint to the raindrops falling against the canvas.

    “Poor Camilla,” Inger murmured.  “She does hate rivers so.”

    “Time she got used to it,” Ben muttered.

    “Don’t be unkind, Ben,” Inger chided softly.  “I told you about her brother.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Ben groused, “but I’m tired, Inger.  It’s been a long day and tomorrow could be rough.  We all need some sleep.”

    Inger laid her head against his shoulder.  “Shall I sing you a lullaby, mine husband?”

    “I wish you could drown that out!” Ben griped as more sobs filtered into the tent.  In the end, though, it was not Inger’s soft crooning that drowned out Camilla, but the loud cries of the youngest Cartwright, demanding his mother’s breast once again.  Ben didn’t consider it an improvement.  At least, Camilla wasn’t screaming right in his ears; Eric was.

    Mrs. Larrimore appeared to have her fears under control by morning.  A close examination of her face would have revealed the tension she felt, but she said nothing as her wagon rolled through the first ford.  Seeing it arrive safely, she gathered Jewel into her arms and waded across, while Enos Montgomery led the second team to the water.

    Ben exhaled a sigh of relief, not realizing until that moment that he’d been holding his breath.  He hoped this safe crossing would calm Camilla’s nerves and help her face the two to come.  His own wagon and Clyde’s still had to ford the river, but he was sure they’d make it.  The Sweetwater wasn’t wide here, and even the recent rains hadn’t put it above three feet deep.

    By the time Clyde Thomas, the last in line, had successfully completed the first crossing, the Zuebner wagon, with young Stefán in command, was moving through the second.  The twelve-year-old showed no fear of going first.  Like his father before him, he was comfortable handling livestock, and the animals seemed to respond to the encouragement of his gentle voice as readily as they had to Fredrich’s.  Reaching the far side, Stefán waved at Robert McTavish.  McTavish returned the signal and headed his team into the water.

    The second crossing went well until the overloaded Larrimore wagon dipped into the water.  Just over halfway across the wheels bogged down in the mud.  Lawrence hollered at the team and grabbed the yoke of the lead team to urge them forward, but the wagon was stuck fast.  From the north bank Camilla screamed at him to be careful.  Lawrence started to snap back at her, but slammed his palm against the unmoving wagon wheel, instead.  “That woman and her fool grandfather clock will be the death of me yet,” he groused to the oxen.

    Fortunately, the men splashing to assist him didn’t hear his under-the-breath comment.  “You’ll need to double-team to pull that rig out of the mud,” Payne stated.

    “I know,” Lawrence said.

    “You want to use my team,” Stefán offered.  “They are most rested.”

    Lawrence smiled at the generous offer.  “Kind of you, son, but I’ll use my own animals.  I’ve got two teams and I got myself into this fix.”

    “Ye had help, man,” McTavish said bluntly, “though the blame is rightly yours:  ye ought to take more control.”

    Lawrence shrugged.  Even though he knew the help he’d had getting into this predicament was apparent to his fellow travelers, he wasn’t willing to fault Camilla to them.  She was his wife and loyalty silenced his tongue.  McTavish, much as Lawrence hated to admit it, had a point, though:  he needed to take more control of his wife.  Somehow, he was going to have to make her see the absurdity of carrying this needless weight.  He couldn’t think about that now, however; now, he had troubles enough to occupy his mind.

    Unhitching the team from his second wagon, Larrimore coupled them to the original oxen.  The twelve oxen plodded forward, and slowly, the immobile wheel began to roll.  Forward a little, then back again, finally breaking free and rumbling easily the rest of the way across the river.  The men on the far bank greeted Lawrence with shouts of congratulations, but the merchant had no time to respond.  Unhitching the twelve oxen, he led them back to bring his second wagon over.

    The Cartwrights and Thomases had had plenty of time to catch up by the time Larrimore got his second wagon across.  “You reckon maybe we ought to double team, Ben?” Clyde asked.

    “I doubt we need to,” Ben said.  “Neither of us is loaded all that heavy.”

    “The cart is,” Clyde said, “but I reckon it can make it.  I just figured we’d have plenty of time to double up if you thought it’d be safer.”

    Inger shook her finger beneath Clyde’s nose.  “You are making sport of the Larrimores’ troubles,” she scolded softly.  “Shame on you, Clyde.”

    “You’ll have to excuse Saint Inger,” Ben chuckled.  “Nothing irritates her, so she has trouble understanding us mere mortals.”

    “Admit it, Inger,” Clyde cackled.  “You get as put out with that woman as we do, don’t you, now?”

    Inger smiled.  “Sometimes, yah, but she is doing better.”

    “She is?” Ben said, almost choking on the words.  “Couldn’t prove it by last night’s performance.”


    Ben gave his wife a quick kiss to shut off any more rebuking words.  “All right, all right.  I’m just irritable from lack of sleep and weary with waiting my turn to tackle this river.”

    “Yeah?” Clyde snickered.  “Well, I’m liable to get irritable, too, if you keep me waiting much longer.  Larrimore’s across, Ben.  Your turn, now.”

    Ben looked up to see that Lawrence’s second wagon had, indeed, just finished fording the river.  He ran to his team and led them into the water.  Soon the eight wagons (plus one cart) were together again and headed toward the third crossing of the Sweetwater.  This time Larrimore, at his wife’s insistence, double-teamed his wagons at the start.  The constant change of teams cost the train time, of course.  There were complaints about that; but despite the delays, the wagons made camp near Ice Spring Slough, as originally planned.

    Again, taking Saturday as their day of rest seemed most practical to the majority of the group.  “Keeping the Hebrew Sabbath makes us more and more resemble the Israelites in the wilderness,” Ebenezer joked.

    Clyde doubled over, and it was some time before he could tell the others what he found side-splittingly funny.  “Just so we don’t spend forty years out here wanderin’ around like they did, Reverend,” he finally sniggered.  Still busy clearing away the dishes from supper, the women looked up at the sound of the unrestrained laughter that greeted Clyde’s remark and wondered what had made their men so merry.

    Following the brief service Saturday morning, the emigrants all took picks and shovels, buckets and pails to the location known as Ice Spring Slough.  While the men dug beneath the sod, the women took a rare rest from their daily chores to simply watch.  The men had dug down about a foot when the first to strike ice sent up a shout.

    The children, Adam among them, ran to their fathers and started to fill their pails with the chunks of ice being broken apart.  Adam couldn’t resist snatching a small chip and popping it into his mouth to suck on.  Ooh, how good the burning cold felt on his tongue!  “I haven’t had ice in just forever, Pa,” Adam said.  “It sure tastes good.”

    Ben let Adam feed him a chip of ice.  “Mmn,” he mumbled.  “Yeah, that’s good, son.  Your pail’s almost full now, though.  Run dump it in our water keg and come back for more.”

    “We gonna fill it full of ice, Pa?” Adam asked, flinging two more chunks into his pail.

    “Sure are!” Ben announced.  “Then when it melts, we’ll have cool, refreshing water to drink.  That’s full enough, son; go empty it.”

    Adam toted the heavy bucket back and clambered up on the wheel so he could reach the top of the cask lashed to the side of the wagon.  Dumping his ice inside, he hurried back for a second load.  “How come there’s ice here, Pa?” he asked as his father helped him scoop his pail full of the chunks he’d broken up while Adam was away.

    “You’ve seen ice houses back east, haven’t you, son?” Ben asked.

    “Sure,” Adam said.

    “This works the same way,” Ben explained.  “Back home they pack the ice in hay and straw to keep it insulated from the heat.  The sod works the same way here.  The heat never gets to the ice, so it stays frozen.”

    “Lucky for us, huh, Pa?”

    Ben patted the boy’s shoulder.  “Yeah, real lucky, or more likely, as Reverend Wentworth would say, a gift from God.  Off you go again and hurry back.”

    Adam grabbed up another chip of ice, grinned and ran back.  He had started to suck the ice himself, but as he walked past the blanket where his little brother lay kicking his heels beside his mother, Adam decided to be generous.  “Here, Hoss,” he said, taking the ice from his own mouth and poking it into the baby’s.

    His little brother immediately made known at the top of his lungs his distaste for burning cold ice.  Inger turned.  Engrossed in her conversation with Rachel Payne, she hadn’t seen Adam feed his brother the ice, so she was shocked to find her baby choking.  Grabbing him up, she pounded the small back.  “What did you give him, Adam?” she demanded of her suddenly anxious older son.

    “Just a little piece of ice, Mama,” Adam said.  “I thought he’d like it.”

    “Oh, Adam!” Inger rebuked sternly.  “How could you?  He’s just a baby.”  She began to coo comforting words to her younger son.  “There, there, mine little one.  Brother didn’t mean to hurt you.”

    “Is he okay?” Adam asked, worried.

    “Yah, the ice vill melt,” Inger said, “and do him no harm.  You must be very careful what you put in a baby’s mouth, though, Adam.  He is not a big boy like you; he doesn’t know to let the ice melt in his mouth, so he choked on it a little.”

    “I’m sorry,” Adam said, contritely.

    “I know,” Inger soothed, reaching out to stroke his cheek with a consoling touch.  “You vill remember to ask before giving Eric anything next time, yah?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Adam promised.  “I won’t feed Hoss nothin’ without your say so.”  He just grinned when Inger frowned at his use of his brother’s nickname.

    Rachel giggled at the expression on her friend’s face.  “I think you’re fighting a losing battle, Inger,” she teased.

    “Yah, I think so,” Inger laughed.  “Yesterday Ben vas playing vith the baby while I cooked supper, and I heard him call my father’s namesake Hoss.”  Rachel smiled.  She knew, if Inger did not, that no one in their wagon train called the chubby little armload anything else.


When the wagons rolled out Sunday morning, the emigrants knew they had to travel sixteen miles that day to reach the nearest water.  Their water casks were full of melting ice, of course, but they’d use some of that during the day and need to find another source by its end.  Since the animals were well-rested, no one doubted they could make the necessary mileage without undue strain.  Sixteen miles represented only a good eight-hour day, after all.  Their path led over a relatively smooth plain scattered with sage that grew as high as the men’s heads.  To the smaller children the six-foot sage plants seemed like trees, but not shady ones.  A shade tree would have been a luxury, too, in the hot August sun; but not even the children would have had time to rest beneath leafy boughs, anyway.  They had sixteen miles to cover.

    Besides the sage “trees,” all the youngsters had to amuse themselves with were the furry rodents scurrying about.  Most of the children were content just to chase the little ground squirrels——that was all they knew to call them——but Billy repeatedly threw rocks at them over the combined protests of Adam and Marta.  Finally realizing that the boy was doing nothing but torment the little creatures, his mother yelled at him to stop and get back to the wagon.

    Billy tossed a handful of pebbles at the nearest rodent and reluctantly went to his mother, Adam and Marta at his heels.  “I was just playing hunter, Ma,” he grumbled.  “Somebody in this here family ought to be a hunter.”

    “Shh, Billy,” Nelly said quickly.  “Don’t let your pa hear you.”  She knew why Billy was disgruntled; she was put out herself with Clyde’s surly behavior this morning.  As if it were her fault or Billy’s that the old goat hadn’t taken Ben Cartwright up on his invitation to go hunting!

    If the hunting party had included just Ben, of course, Clyde would have leaped at the chance; but it was McTavish who had asked Ben on the hunt and Ben who’d suggested including Clyde.  Ever since McTavish had left the train when cholera struck, Clyde had harbored resentment against the Scot.  Nelly didn’t feel the same degree of antipathy, but she understood it.  Time still needed to do its healing work before Clyde would relish spending a day hunting with the man he considered a turncoat coward.

    Nelly ran affectionate fingers through Billy’s flaming hair.  “I reckon you’re right, son,” she said softly.  “We could use some meat for supper.  Get a thick hunk of sage and see if you can’t kill a couple of them squirrels or prairie dogs or whatever they are.”

    “Yes, ma’am!” Billy yelled and started to run off in pursuit of his game.

    “Wait a minute!” his mother called.  “Make sure you hit them hard enough to kill them, Billy,” she admonished.  “And just two.  I ain’t sending you out just to pester the critters, nor to wipe them off the face of the earth.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Billy muttered.  Honestly, sometimes his ma acted like he didn’t have the sense of a goose.  The freckled face brightened as quickly as it had clouded, though.  “Come on, Adam,” he urged.  “Let’s get us some fresh meat for supper!”

    Adam’s nose wrinkled, and he shook his head with determination.  “I ain’t killin’ nothing that little,” he said.  “My pa’ll bring us plenty of fresh meat.”

    Billy’s face turned the shade of his hair.  It was one thing for him to think ill of his pa, another for Adam to make out his was better.  With doubled fist he took a step toward the Cartwright boy; but before he could take another, Clyde swatted his backside and told him to get on with his hunting.  Then he turned on Adam.  “As for you, smarty britches, if you ain’t got nothin’ better to do than brag up your own pa, get on home!”  Like Billy, he’d heard Adam’s remark and interpreted it as criticism of himself.

    “Land sakes, Clyde!” Nelly scolded as a shocked Adam ran back to his mother with Marta close behind.  “Don’t go takin’ your spleen out on that boy.  He didn’t mean nothin’ agin you.”

    Clyde wasn’t ready to listen to reason, though.  He was mad at McTavish; he was mad at Ben Cartwright; he was mad at himself; and if little Adam was fool enough to get in the path of an angry cyclone, he might as well expect to get a little wind-blown.  Seeing McTavish tote a huge elk back to camp that evening did nothing to sweeten the blacksmith’s temper, either.  When Ben, who’d shot a mountain sheep, asked the Thomases to join them for supper, Clyde peevishly turned him down.  “No, thanks,” he said.  “My boy caught us some game today.  I reckon we’ll make out just fine on biled rodent.”

    Ben looked puzzled.  He knew why Clyde had refused to hunt with McTavish, but now the man was acting upset with him.  “Have I done something to offend you, Clyde?” he asked.

    “No,” Clyde said, too quickly.  Irked as he was with Ben for spending the day in the company of that Scottish wretch, he knew he had no right to restrict another man’s activity.  He couldn’t bring himself, however, to eat meat the wretch had any part in providing.  Uncomfortable admitting such an uncharitable attitude, he offered Ben no explanation of his refusal.  Ben walked away, still pondering what he’d said or done to rile his friend.

    Nelly had just put her meat on to parboil to get out some of the oiliness before she roasted it when Inger Cartwright approached their campfire.  Nelly bit her lip nervously.  She was embarrassed by her man’s behavior toward Ben and was afraid she was about to see Clyde snarl at sweet little Inger, too.  “Hi, honey,” she said quietly.

    Inger returned the greeting with a smile, then moved past her friend to stand directly before Clyde, who was seated on a barrel near the fire.  “Clyde, I have come to ask you to share dinner vith us,” she asked, making no mention of his earlier refusal of Ben’s invitation.  “I am making a fine stew of this mountain mutton Ben brought home.”

    Clyde kept his eyes on the ground.  He’d had enough time to consider his hasty words and feel ashamed of himself, and he’d known before Inger spoke what she’d come to say.  The woman had every right to rake him over the coals for his treatment of her man; but here she was being gracious as always, still treating him like a friend.  Clyde’s face burned with embarrassment as he mumbled his decline to her offer.

    Inger stooped down so her face would be even with his.  “I vill not take no for an answer,” she said gently.  “Please come.  Our campfire is lonely for you.”  A teasing smile touched her lips.  “I promise not to make you speak kind vords about Robert McTavish to earn your supper.”

    Against his will, Clyde started to chuckle.  “Good of you to ask, Inger, and I’d like to say yes, but Nelly’s already started dinner here.”

    “Nelly’d rather taste that ‘mutton’ than eat this oily thing!” his wife declared.

    “Bring that, too,” Inger laughed.  “I’m sure it vill be eaten.  You must come, truly, for Ben also brought home prairie peas and ripe raspberries he found in the mountains.”

    “Fresh fruit and vegetables!” Nelly cried.  “Oh, honey, we’ll be there quick as I can boil this skunk.”

    “Skunk!” Billy hollered.  “I didn’t kill no skunk, did I?”

    Clyde grabbed the youngster and gave his britches a playful swat.  “Naw, your ma’s just givin’ her opinion of the meat, boy.”

    “Well, she oughta try it first,” Billy pouted.

    Inger rubbed the freckled cheek.  “Ve vill all try some, Billy.  I am sure it vill be good.”

    Billy grinned smugly and gave an emphatic nod.  “Yes, ma’am, but I figure I could save room for raspberry pie, if’n you was to bake one.”

    “Billy!” his mother protested, covering her face.

    “It’s all right,” Inger giggled.  “I hadn’t decided whether to bake a pie or just serve the berries vith cream, but pie it shall be.”

    “Hooray!” Billy whooped.  “Berry pie with globs of thick cream!  Yum, yum!”

    “Billy, you scamp,” his mother chided.  “Quit plannin’ Inger’s dinner for her.”  Billy just grinned.  He could tell by the lighter tone that his mother had quit being upset with him.  Anyway, it wasn’t Mrs. Cartwright’s dinner he was planning; it was his own.  He figured he had a right to make his wishes known.

    Inger hurried back to finish the meal, and Nelly scrounged through the wagon to see what she could add.  Between them, the ladies prepared a meal the male members of their families declared fit for kings and princes.  Even Billy’s roast rodent was pronounced tasty with the seasonings his mother had added, but proud as he was of the fruit of his first hunt, Billy had to admit the mutton stew was better.

    “These wild peas taste mighty close to the tame ones we grew back home,” Nelly observed.  “Sure glad you took time to gather some, Ben.”

    “I’d have brought more if I’d had anything else to carry them in,” Ben said.  “I’d already found the raspberries, too, so I just couldn’t handle more.”

    “Yah, I think I am hungrier for green things that I could ever be for meat,” Inger sighed contentedly.

    “They’ll help prevent scurvy, too,” Ben said.  “When I was sailing, we carried oranges on ship for that purpose; but fresh vegetables work just as well.”

    “Yah, that is good,” Inger agreed.  “Ve eat good, don’t ve, for being so far from a grocery or a garden plot?”

    “We surely do,” Nelly said, “but I’ve had all I can hold for now.  How ‘bout you let me dandy that sack of potatoes for you, honey?”

    “How dare you call my teeny, weeny little boy a sack of potatoes?” Inger laughed as she handed Eric to her friend.

    “I want some more peas,” Adam said, and his mother gladly refilled his plate.

    “Did you cook all the peas, Inger?” Nelly asked.

    “Yah, this is all Ben brought, but there are some left, Nelly,” Inger replied.  “You vould like?”

    “No, no, I’ve had plenty,” Nelly said.  “I was just going to suggest you might like to pickle some if you hadn’t cooked them all.  I’ve heard they’re tasty that way, too.”

    “Oh, yah?  Vell, I am sorry I cannot try that.  Perhaps Ben vould like to spend tonight getting me the makings for pickles while I sleep,” Inger teased.

    “Perhaps not,” Ben said with a wink.  “Isn’t that just like a woman, Clyde?  She sends you out for meat.  Then when you not only provide the main course, but a side dish and dessert, too, she complains that she doesn’t have pickles.”

    “That’s a female for you,” Clyde joshed.  “Now, did someone mention dessert?”

    “Only for those who respect vomen,” Inger twitted him back.

    “I do,” Billy yelped, “especially them what bakes pie!”  Everyone laughed as Inger tweaked the small nose and promised Billy he could have the first slice for his quick defense of womanhood.

    The emigrants nooned at the base of a rocky hill the next day, having driven the stock until the sun was directly overhead to reach it.  Though that meant pushing the oxen an hour longer than usual, it seemed prudent to let the draught animals have their two-hour rest immediately before scaling the steep incline.

    When the time came to rehitch the teams and head up the hill, only Payne and Wentworth faced the challenge with smiling faces.  Since they were ahead of the Larrimores in line today, they would be spared the frustration of waiting for those two wagons to make their way laboriously uphill.  Those behind the Larrimores grumbled, as usual, about the delay, but Clyde Thomas, at least, had to eat his criticism of Camilla Larrimore when the cart containing his heavy blacksmithing tools had to be double-teamed to get up the hill.

     Not only did Clyde have to deal with that frustration, but with a more than normally fractious son, as well.  Billy had felt so grown up after providing meat for the table the previous night that he considered himself man enough to take the cart over the hill all by himself and was furious when his father refused.  Seeing the trouble Clyde had, though, settled Billy down considerably.  He was suddenly content to be a boy again, not responsible for the possible loss of his father’s valued possessions.

    Due to the time-consuming trek up and down the hill and the rough trail that followed it, the wagons only covered thirteen miles.  Everyone accepted that as a good day’s drive, however.  Under the best conditions, hills and rivers ate hours out of their day, though some still would have argued that a trip with Camilla Larrimore could scarcely be described as “under the best conditions.”

    The train made short mileage Tuesday, as well, slowed by their final crossing of the Sweetwater River.  As his wagon rolled into the river, Ebenezer Wentworth couldn’t help remembering his first river crossing.  He’d been first in line that day, too, and so inexperienced it was no wonder his wagon tipped over.  Fredrich Zuebner had rushed to help him that day and in the days to follow had given the minister so much good advice about livestock that Wentworth faced this crossing with confidence.

    Now, too, he had his boy Matthew to help, for the thirteen-year-old had a knack for handling oxen, some of it undoubtedly picked up from his friend, young Stefán Zuebner.  Obviously, the boy had more aptitude for an agricultural life than a clerical one, but that was fine with his father, who firmly believed that a man didn’t have to be a preacher to be a man of God.

    The other travelers collectively held their breath when the first Larrimore wagon approached the fording place.  Actually, what they were tempted to hold was their ears, certain that Camilla Larrimore’s wails would soon assault them.  She surprised them, however.  Maybe it was because the Sweetwater was only fifty feet wide at this location and barely two feet deep; maybe the woman was finally gaining some confidence in her husband’s judgment; maybe it was all an act.  Whatever the reason, Camilla handled herself much better than she had at earlier crossings.  Oh, she held little Jewel so tightly the girl started to whimper; but though her lips felt raw from her nervous nibbling, Camilla managed to keep her fears under restraint.

    Seeing the wagons arrive safely, Camilla sighed, relieved to have gotten past the ordeal one more time and pleased that for once she hadn’t disgraced her husband.  When she splashed across to meet him on the south side of the river, he gave her a hearty hug and told her how proud he was.  Camilla smiled.  The commendatory words almost made the trial worthwhile.  Almost.

    Since the train had not reached the river until late afternoon, the emigrants encamped on the far side.  Everyone, advised that the water supply ahead was probably less satisfactory, made sure their kegs were brimful of fresh water.  They would all be sorry to leave behind the sparkling, clear refreshment of the Sweetwater, a river truly deserving of its name.

* * * * *

    Ben looked up from his perusal of his trusty guidebook.  “This doesn’t make sense,” he muttered.

    Stirring more rice into leftover mutton stew to make it stretch for their noon meal, Inger looked up.  “What does not make sense?” she asked.

    “Well, this has got to be Koin Mounds,” Ben said, “but South Pass is only supposed to be three miles from here.”

    “Yah?  And so?”

    “Look around, Inger!” Ben insisted.  “Do you see anything resembling a mountain pass?”

    “Now you mention it, no,” Inger admitted.  “It is just a nice, grassy meadow.”

    “I know we’re moving up,” Ben said, “but I thought the road to the pass would be steeper.  It can’t be just three miles from here.”

    “Why don’t you ask Lawrence?” Inger suggested.  “He has been here before, after all.”

    “Yeah, I think I will,” Ben said.  “Do I have time before lunch?”

    “Yah, I vant to make some dumplings to go in the stew, so you have, maybe twenty minutes or so.”  With that assurance, Ben moved to the captain’s encampment and made his inquiry.

    Lawrence laughed.  “The guidebook’s right, Ben.  We are that close to South Pass.  Not as spectacular as you expected, is it?”

    Ben chuckled.  “Well, to be honest, no.”

    “Don’t look for it to change much, either,” Lawrence warned.  “Some folks never realize they’ve crossed the continental divide until they get to Pacific Springs.”

    “That’s where we’re camping tonight, right?”

    “Best place around,” Lawrence said.  “Four miles beyond the pass.”

    As Ben pulled his wagon into line behind the two Larrimore ones, he shook his head, still unable to comprehend that the scene greeting his eyes was the approach to a mountain pass.  He’d anticipated something on the order of Devil’s Gate——not that narrow, of course, for the wagons couldn’t have gotten through that, but, basically, a narrow opening between high cliffs like that had been.

    There were majestic mountains nearby, certainly——their old friends, the Wind River range some fifteen to thirty miles to the north and the snow-frosted Colorado Rockies lying south and southwest.  Even at a distance, they painted a splendid panorama:  gray-green sage at the base of the mountains, then green mountain bushes above, finally topped by glistening white snow on the highest peaks.

    The trail itself, though, as Inger had said, looked like a grassy meadow with its broad, gradual curve, smooth as the arch of an ox yoke.  Ben truly wouldn’t have known when he reached South Pass had not Lawrence Larrimore called back to tell him.  Pointing right and left at a break in the surrounding mountains almost twenty miles wide, Lawrence yelled, “South Pass, Ben!”  Amazed, Ben sent the cry down the line to travelers as disbelieving as himself.

    But, sure enough, when the wagons rolled through the wide pass, the trail began to dip downward.  Two hours later they circled near the little brook called Pacific Springs, the first stream they’d encountered to flow toward the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic.  The emigrants stood beside it and cheered.  They’d crossed the Rockies!  The even more rugged Sierra Nevadas still lay before them, but no one wanted to think of that tonight.  Tonight would be a time of celebration.

    The train didn’t head out until noon the next day.  On Larrimore’s advice, the men went about four miles north to cut and lay in a supply of hay, for grass would be scarce on the next stretch of trail.  By the time they returned, the women had lunch waiting, so they ate hurriedly and began their day’s journey.  They pushed hard that afternoon to make up for the delayed start, letting the oxen stop for a breather when needed, but taking no lengthy rest.

    The trail crossed a brown and barren plain——no game, no grass, no water——nothing but mushroom-shaped buttes of rusty-brown sandstone.  It was country to make an emigrant wish he’d never left home, but it had a magnetic attraction.  After five hours steady plodding, though, no one cared what the scenery looked like.  They were too tired to care, and an important decision had to be made before they left the next morning.

    “We should take Sublette’s Cutoff,” McTavish said bluntly.

    “In this heat?  Are you daft, man?” Payne snorted.

    “Are ye?” McTavish demanded hotly.  “Think of the time we’ve lost, and how much further it is to go by Fort Bridger.”

    “It is further,” Ben offered.  “We’d add at least four days, maybe more, to our journey that way.  But I don’t know about the cutoff.  As Jonathan says, it’ll be hard going in this heat.”

    “Perhaps it’s worth it if we save that much time,” Wentworth mused.  “The season grows late.”

    Ben nodded gravely.  That had been his biggest concern for some time now.  “Which route did your party take, Lawrence?” he asked, hoping for more informed input.

    “We took Sublette’s Cutoff,” Larrimore said, “and we made it fine, but we were all men.  It means walking almost twenty-four hours straight, and that would be hard on the women and children.”

    “Couldn’t they ride in the wagons?” Wentworth asked.

    Lawrence shook his head.  “Not a good idea.  On a dry drive like this, the oxen will be under a tremendous strain.  The more we lighten their load, the better.”

    “That’s the real reason you’re opposed, isn’t it, Larrimore?” McTavish prodded.  “You don’t want to leave your woman’s play pretties behind.”

    “I’ve stated my real reason,” Lawrence snapped.  “Leave my wife out of this.”

    “Gentlemen, please,” Ebenezer pleaded.  “None of this will help make our decision.”

    “I’m concerned about the women and children, too,” Jonathan inserted.  “What do you think, Clyde?”

    “My Nelly’s a tough bird,” Clyde said.  “I figure she and the boy could handle it, but I’d sure hate to put them through it.”

    “We—we grow short of supplies,” Stefán said quietly.  “For us, Fort Bridger might be best.”

    “Don’t let that enter into your decision, son,” Ben said.  “We’ll see to it you have what you need.”

    Stefán smiled.  “You have already been most kind, Mr. Cartwright, to share your game with us, so I do not fear to go hungry.  I just thought I should tell how it is with us.”

    “And you were right to do so,” Lawrence said kindly.  “We need all the information each of us can supply to help make our decision.”

    “Are ye ready to vote or not?” McTavish demanded.

    Lawrence looked at the faces crowded around.  “Anyone have anything to add?”

    “Indeed, we do!” Rachel Payne shouted as she walked sturdily into the circle of men with all the other ladies trailing behind.  “While you men were standing around belaboring the issue, we had our own meeting; and we’re here to tell you our feelings.”

    “Mind your place, woman,” Payne mumbled, his face burning.

    “My place is at your side,” Rachel said.  She looked at each of the other men and smiled politely.  “We’re not here to usurp your right to decide our course, gentlemen, but I just heard Mr. Larrimore say you needed all the information anyone could supply.  We feel we have such information.”

    “Hear, hear!” Nelly said.

    Lawrence looked at the other men, but their shocked faces gave him no clue as to the best way to handle this feminine invasion.  “Yes, well, uh, ladies,” he stammered.  “We’re always glad to listen, of course.”

    “Then hear this,” Rachel ordered.  “We know that if you men were alone, you’d most likely choose to take Sublette’s Cutoff to save time and distance.  The fact that you’re debating so long must mean that you’re concerned for us and for the children.”

    “Absolutely right, Rachel,” Ben said.  “From what Lawrence tells us, it would be a very difficult trek.”

    “And we’re prepared to face it,” Rachel said.  “Of course, it will be hard on the smaller children, but if we help them, I believe they can handle it.  I know we women can.  We request that you consider taking the cutoff.  None of us want to face winter in the mountains.”

    “So say you all?” Lawrence asked, his eyes on his wife.

    “So say we all,” she responded quietly, but confidently.  Then, she smiled.  “After all, Lawrence, it’s rivers I’m afraid of, not deserts.”

    The laughter that rippled around the circle of men lightened the mood.  “What do you say, then, men?” Lawrence cried.  “Can we afford to show less courage than the ladies?”

    “Nay to that!” Clyde hollered.  “Ho for Sublette’s Cutoff!”  Though no formal vote was taken, the resounding shouts declared the decision:  they would take the rougher, but shorter route and pray God gave them the strength to endure it.

* * * * *

    Ben lifted his younger son over his head and gave him a big grin.  “You’re one month old today, Eric Cartwright,” he announced.  The baby gurgled as if he were happy to be celebrating the occasion.

    “And still too young to hold like that!” Inger cried.  “Support his head, Ben.”

    Ben lowered the boy.  “Sorry; he’s grown so, I forget I can’t treat him like the big boy he seems.”

    “Vell, be careful,” Inger murmured as she took the baby and lovingly brushed the blonde fuzz on his head.  “Better eat your breakfast, Ben; and you finish yours, Adam.”

    “I’m done, Mama,” Adam said, showing her his empty plate.  “That was a good, big breakfast, too.”

    “Yah, but you must eat hearty for the journey ahead,” his mother urged.

    “You’ll get another chance to feed him,” Ben reminded her.  “We’ll take an extra long noon break today, so we can start the dry drive in the cooler part of the day.”

    “Yah, that is true,” Inger said.  “I vill fix a big lunch since ve vill not be stopping to cook supper.”

    “Are we really gonna walk all night, Pa?” Adam asked.

    “I’m afraid so, son,” Ben said, “but I know you’ll be a good, brave boy about it.”

    “‘Course, I will,” Adam declared, his chin jutting up proudly.  Pa was counting on him to act like a little man, and that’s just what he intended to be.

    Before the wagons had been on the trail an hour, they came to a dry creek bed called Dry Sandy.  Though no water was visible, all the guidebooks said that by digging down six to eight inches, some could be found.  To be sure, it was salty and had an unpleasant flavor; but if a person were thirsty enough, it was better than nothing.  No one in the Larrimore train bothered to check, however.  It was only five more miles to Little Sandy, which was reported to have pure, sweet water; and they all had sufficient water in their kegs to go that far.

    They arrived at Little Sandy about ten o’clock Friday morning and watered the oxen in the cool water.  The women worked hard to prepare an unusually heavy noon meal and to fix some extra bread to eat on the journey.  Their labors were finished by shortly past noon, however; so, like their husbands, they wisely used the time to crawl beneath the shade of their wagons and take a midday nap.  The children argued; but most of them, either from natural docility or fear of reprisal, curled up next to their parents and slept for awhile.

    The wagons left Little Sandy about four o’clock that afternoon, intending to drive for four hours, then give the oxen a half hour’s rest before continuing on.  When they stopped at eight, Inger gave her family thick slices of fresh-baked bread spread with the butter their faithful cow continued to provide and jam made from yellow currants found along the trail a week earlier.  With the cold bacon left from lunch, it made a satisfying meal.  Thirty minutes was not enough to rest their weary bodies, of course, but they knew they had to cross this arid region as quickly as possible.  To dawdle might cost the lives of their animals and, thus, endanger them all.  So when Larrimore called that it was time to leave, they stood at once and took their places in line.

    At first, walking in the moonlight seemed almost pleasurable.  The air was cooler and the travelers weren’t overly tired.  But the steps they had already taken that day began to catch up with them by the time seven hours became eight, then nine and ten.  “Ain’t it time to stop yet, Pa?” Adam asked wearily.

    “Not yet, son,” Ben said.  “We need to go on about another hour before we rest.”

    “But I’m awful tired, Pa,” the little boy whimpered.  “I don’t think I can walk another hour.”

    Ben sighed and lifted the boy onto his back.  He’d known this moment would come, but knowing didn’t give his own worn out muscles any extra energy.  “You can ride piggyback awhile, all right?”

    “Okay,” Adam yawned and promptly dropped his head onto his father’s broad shoulder.

    “Hold on tight,” Ben cautioned.

    “Uh-huh,” Adam responded drowsily.

    “I’ll vatch him,” Inger promised.

    “Please do,” Ben chuckled.  “His grip feels kinda loose.”

    On they plodded, their steps dragging in the sand, their bodies dropping with exhaustion at the signal to rest.  Ben eased Adam to the ground, and Inger guided the sleepy youngster to the blanket his father spread quickly on the ground.  “Sit down,” Ben told Inger.  “I’ll fetch out some oysters and crackers if that sounds good to you.”

    Inger nodded, grateful to be spared even the minor exertion of slicing bread.  She had little interest in food herself and Adam seemed too sleepy to eat.  She managed to rouse him enough to take a little nourishment, though.

    “Pa, can’t I ride in the wagon?” Adam pleaded.

    “I’m sorry, son,” Ben said, “but we need to spare the oxen as much as possible.”

    “Hoss gets to ride,” Adam pouted.

    “Hoss is a baby,” Ben responded sternly.  “He doesn’t weigh enough to make a difference.”

    “Yes, he does,” Adam insisted, almost in tears.  “He’s real heavy.”

    Ben gathered the little boy into his lap.  “Now, what happened to my brave boy?” he asked gently.

    “I’m not brave,” Adam sobbed.  “I’m tired.”

    “Shh,” Ben soothed.  “Pa knows you’re tired, but you’re still my brave boy.  I’m sorry, Adam.  I’d carry you the whole way if I could, but I can’t.  Now, eat your dinner.  We don’t have much time.”

    Ben had even less time to relax than the rest of his family.  Once he had Adam calmed down, he drew water from the casks for the oxen and ate a few oysters.  Then it was time to head out again.

    Adam started out walking, but within the first hour his feet began to stumble, and Ben again lifted him in his arms.  He managed to carry the boy until about two o’clock in the morning when he finally gave up and laid Adam inside the wagon.

    It was still dark when the wagons circled the next morning to take an hour’s rest.  They had come twenty-four miles since leaving Little Sandy the previous afternoon, and everyone, adult and child alike, felt exhausted.  No one had either time or energy to light a cook fire, so those who ate enjoyed a cold breakfast.

    The Cartwrights were among those who simply chose to forego breakfast in favor of a few minutes sleep.  When Ben roused himself, however, he wondered whether that had been a good idea after all.  His nap had been too short to reinvigorate him; in fact, he felt more drowsy than before.  Yawning, he shook Inger’s shoulder.  “Time to get up, sweetheart,” he murmured as the blue eyes flickered open.

    Inger groaned.  “Already, Ben?”

    “‘Fraid so,” Ben sighed.  “You’d better wake Adam.”

    “Oh, let him sleep, Ben,” Inger urged.  “Another hour, anyway.  The oxen won’t tell the difference that soon.”

    “Oh, all right,” Ben relented.  “I suppose he doesn’t weigh all that much, but he really should walk.”

    “Later,” Inger said persuasively.  “He vill later.”  Adam didn’t get the full hour’s extra rest his mother had begged for him, though.  His little brother saw to that with loud, demanding squalls no one could sleep through.  The rest of the family may have been willing to pass up breakfast, but the youngest member definitely wanted his.  Ben lifted a still groggy Adam down from the wagon and helped Inger in so she could nurse the baby.

    Adam made no complaint this time although he had trouble keeping his eyes open.  When he did come fully awake, he decided that he, too, was hungry.  Inger, now walking alongside him with the baby strapped to her back, handed him a piece of bread she’d put in her apron pocket to nibble on later.  She could wait until they stopped at mid-morning, though.  Adam obviously needed nourishment now.

    On the emigrants walked, their flagging footsteps following the same routine as the night before:  drive four hours, take a half-hour’s rest, walk four more hours, then take an hour off.  On and on they walked over a grassless land level as a tabletop, with sand in their shoes and dust in their throats, the sun scorching their faces and sweat soaking their bodies.

    It was nine o’clock Saturday night when they finally came to Green River, having traveled fifty miles since four the previous afternoon.  The stock had to be watered and fed, of course; but no one had strength to do anything else.  None of the emigrants in Larrimore’s party even bothered to set up a tent.  They just bundled up in blankets and crawled beneath their wagons to sleep as long as they were able.

    Most of them slept ‘til noon, some for the first time in their lives; for these were hard-working people, used to rising early.  They knew they’d earned the rest, of course; but more importantly, they knew they had another hard drive ahead.  Reaching the Green River meant they were just over halfway through Sublette’s Cutoff, and the next reliable source of water lay another forty-one miles away.  With the agonies of the previous day about to be repeated, no wonder they slept as long as they could.

    Ben had just crawled out from beneath the wagon where Inger, Adam and Eric still slept when he saw Clyde Thomas coming back from the river and motioned him over.  “Gonna be any delay at the ferry?” Ben asked as soon as Clyde reached him.

    “Naw, Larrimore got up early to put our names in,” Clyde said.  “Seems like they got it well organized here and take folks in turn.”

    “That’s good,” Ben said.  “How long, you figure?”

    “Hour, maybe,” Clyde said.  “Wait’ll you hear the price, though.”

    Ben frowned.  “Really gonna gouge us, are they?”

    “You can say that again!”  Clyde spat at the ground.  “Confounded Mormons aim to bleed me dry before they’re done, I reckon.  They’re charging seven dollars a wagon here, plus fifty cents per animal.”

    Ben whistled.  “That’s steep, all right, but we’ve got to cross here.”

    “Yup, they know they’ve got us over the barrel,” Clyde snorted, “and plan to milk it for all it’s worth.”

    “Milk a barrel?” Ben teased.

    “Aw, you know what I mean,” Clyde snorted.  “You still gonna defend their right to make a livin’, Ben?”

    Ben chuckled.  “I should have said a fair living, Clyde.  Well, let’s see, that’s eleven dollars for my rig, thanks to Larrimore’s generous provision of eight oxen.  Oh, and another fifty cents for my milk cow, I guess.”

    “You’re still gettin’ off light,” Clyde chuckled.  “I gotta pay a total of fourteen-fifty, counting the cart, and Larrimore’s bill will be even higher.”

    “Oh, yeah,” Ben smiled.  “Well, I’d better get Inger up, so we’ll be ready to take our turn.”

    “I gotta do the same——with Nelly, I mean.  See ya, Ben.”

    After rousing his wife, Ben took two buckets and headed down to the riverside to draw some water.  As he passed Larrimore’s wagon, the captain waved him aside.  “We’ve got a problem, Ben,” Lawrence said.

    “Yeah?” Ben said.  “Clyde said you had our place in line reserved.”

    “I do,” Lawrence said hurriedly.  “The problem is we’ve got one member in our party who refuses to pay the fee.  McTavish insists he’s going to ford.”

    “Oh, he can’t be serious,” Ben said.  “It’s too deep, isn’t it?”

    “In my opinion,” Larrimore replied, “but he won’t listen to me.  See if you can’t talk sense to the man, Ben.  But hurry; he’s getting ready to make the attempt now.”

    “I’ll try,” Ben said.  He spotted McTavish hitching his team and ran over to him.  “I hear you’re planning to ford,” Ben began.

    “I am, and I’ll be thanking ye to mind your own business,” McTavish snapped.

    “That’s what I’m doing,” Ben said sharply.  “As lieutenant, the welfare of this party is my business.  Look at that river, Robert!  You can see it isn’t fordable.”

    McTavish looked at the river.  Much as he hated to admit it, he knew Ben was right.  “Then, I’ll have to float the wagon across,” he said.

    “Now, Robert,” Ben scoffed, “you know that isn’t practical, either.  We can’t spare the time.  We have to be across and ready to pull out by four this afternoon.”

    “Well, what else can I do?” McTavish demanded.  “Do ye know how much they want for their blasted ferry?”

    “I know it’s high,” Ben agreed, “but worth it when you consider the safety of our families.”

    “Tell him, Robert,” Maggie urged.

    “Mind your tongue, woman!” McTavish ordered.

    Ben’s eyes lighted with sudden understanding.  “You don’t have enough, do you?”

    McTavish turned fiery red.  “The state of my pocketbook is none of your business, Ben Cartwright!”

    “It is if it causes you to make the kind of fool decisions you’re talking about!” Ben shouted back.  “How much have you got, Robert?”

    McTavish flinched, then muttered.  “Not enough.  I’ve five dollars to my name.  So, you see, Cartwright, I’m not the fool you take me for; I simply have no choice.”

    “Yes, you do,” Ben said quietly.  “I’ll pay your toll.”

    “No, ye will not!” Robert cried.  “I’ll not be taking charity from any man.”

    “Charity!” Ben scoffed, conveniently forgetting how prickly he’d been on that subject before meeting Inger.  “I’d take it if I had to, to save my family, man; but charity’s not what I’m offering.”

    “What else would ye call it?”

    “A loan,” Ben stated firmly.  “Don’t you think I know a man with integrity when I see one?  You’re a good, hard worker, Robert, which means you’ll do well in California.  I know you’ll pay me back when you’re able.”

    “Aye, and with interest,” Robert said, hope replacing the fierce pride in his eyes.

    Ben shook his head.  “No need of that.”

    “Aye, or I don’t take the loan,” McTavish said stubbornly.

    “All right,” Ben conceded, “but you determine the interest.  I’m not concerned about it.”  He handed the Scotsman a ten-dollar gold piece.  “That should cover your rig.”

    “Five’s all I need,” Robert insisted.

    “Take the ten,” Ben said sharply, “and use the other for supplies when we get to Fort Hall.  I’ll wager you shorted yourself back at Laramie.”

    “You’d be right,” Maggie said.  “Take it, Robert, and thank the man.”

    This time, instead of demanding his wife’s silence, McTavish took her advice.  “I do thank ye, Ben, and if there’s ever anything ye be needin’—”

    “I’ll be sure to ask,” Ben said.  “Now, I’d better get my water casks filled so we’ll be ready for that ferry.  Big day ahead.”

    “It is that,” Robert agreed, “and glad I’ll be to see it end.”

    Since the Mormon’s ferry used a large enough scow to carry two wagons on each trip, the Larrimore party all reached the far bank long before four o’clock.  They would, of course, wait ‘til then to start and drive through the night as they had before.

    “I don’t have time to bake bread,” Inger said once their wagon was across the river, “but if you vish to make a fire, Ben, I could make cornbread and bacon, perhaps.”

    “Oh, let’s not bother,” Ben said.  “It’s too hot to build a fire, and you’ll be better off using the time to rest.  Pilot bread’s all right with you, isn’t it, Adam?”

    “I like crackers better,” Adam said.

    Ben laughed.  “All right——crackers, then.  You want to split a tin of sardines?”

    “Okay,” Adam agreed.

    “Ben, I’m a little vorried about the cow,” Inger said.  “She did not give as much milk as usual this morning.”

    “It’s lack of water,” Ben said.  “I’d better give her more.  We sure want that milk to keep coming, don’t we, boy?”

    “Yes, sir!” Adam said.  “Have we got any butter for my crackers, Mama?”

    “No, I’m sorry,” Inger said.  “Ve used the last this morning, but maybe by night there vill be a little churned by the vagon, yah?”

    “Okay,” Adam said, “but I was gonna drink the milk, if we had some.”

    Inger laughed.  “You cannot have your cake and eat it, too, they tell me.”

    “I wasn’t talking about cake,” Adam protested.  Ben laughed and explained the meaning of the expression Inger had used.

    Promptly at four by Larrimore’s pocket watch, the train hit the trail.  All night and all the following day the overlanders walked, according to the pattern that had successfully brought them to Green River.  By the time they reached Emigrant Springs at 3:30 Monday afternoon, they were exhausted, having come more than ninety miles in the last three days.  The official end of the Sublette Cutoff was still thirteen miles further ahead, but everyone knew now they could make that.  After what they’d just come through, thirteen miles was nothing.

    The Larrimore party rested all day Tuesday, September third.  For the first time in days the men built cook fires, and the women baked bread in their trusty Dutch ovens.  Even salt pork and beans tasted wonderful again after three days of little but hardtack to eat.

    Though it wasn’t Sunday, Reverend Wentworth called his prairie congregation together that night.  “Don’t worry.  I don’t plan to preach,” he said.  “I’d just like to read the twenty-third psalm to you and say a word of prayer.”  As the minister read, Ben couldn’t help but think how well the words fit their situation.  What they’d walked through felt like the valley of the shadow of death; and God had truly led them beside waters which, if not exactly still, nonetheless did refresh both body and soul.

End Part Three

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