Become a Fan
By Linda Mickey
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Rated "G" by the Author.
Josh Fairmont knew that the trip from St. Louis to Oregon would be difficult; he just had no idea how awful it would be.
A dust-laden wind stung Josh's cheeks, turning them a splotchy pink. He snorted and then spat grit from his mouth. In the distance, tall grass seemed to roll across the prairie like dark. Above, a few white puffs floated across a blue sky, offering no hint of rain. It didn’t matter where he stood; it had all looked the same for days. Josh was sick of it but rain would slow them down, make walking impossible and miring the wagon wheels in mud. Any delay was life-threatening. They had a critical deadline to meet. To survive the trip, the wagon train had to be over the mountains before the first snow.
“It's time to go,” Rebecca said, placing a dainty hand on her older brother's elbow.
Had she been silent as she approached or had he been so focused that he had failed to hear her. Josh turned to face his sister.
“Lunch break is over,” she said, gently pulling his arm. “The lead wagons are already moving.”
Josh nodded and followed Rebecca back to the Fairmont wagon. She’s as delicate as the blossoms on their old hawthorn tree, he thought, watching her pick her way carefully through the clumps of buffalo grass. She had been his height just a year ago. Now her head barely touched his shoulder. Their mother once joked about men growing up and women growing out. He was certainly taller but he could not imagine his sister getting bigger in any direction.
Josh and Rebecca fell in step next to the oxen as the Fairmont wagon rolled forward and he thought again about the decision to head west. Father had been anxious to start his own business, talking incessantly about opportunity and the excitement of building the new territories, but Josh had misgivings right from the start. It wasn't that he minded change or the challenge. If it had been just the two of them, he would have welcomed the trip. Getting away from the hot, stinking streets of St. Louis and the house where his mother died. That was just fine. It was dragging Rebecca across a thousand miles of prairie and mountains that troubled him. She was frail, like their mother had been, with wisps of wheat blond hair and translucent skin covering bones so delicate he feared breaking them if he hugged her too hard.
The trip was far more difficult than Josh had imagined. Bandits, bad water, and back-breaking work were all expected hardships. It was the exhausting walk that he hadn't figured on. He thought it would be a wagon ride the whole way. How wrong he had been. Not only was the wagon packed full with their belongings and supplies leaving no room for passengers, but the jostling and jouncing inside turned a body black and blue. Great for churning butter but riders took a beating…and they added weight. It was critically important to conserve the animals' strength for the long pull over the mountains, still a month’s travel to the west. Would Rebecca be able to keep up the tiresome pace? Would she make it across the Rockies? She seemed a bit weaker these last few days.
Ten hours and nearly fifteen miles after sun rise, the wagons circled for the night. Folk tended to their animals, made necessary repairs to their wagons, cooked the evening meal, and made bread for the following day.
Josh watched his sister gently place dough into the cast iron pot and set it over the fire. He had just completed his routine evening check of the harness when he saw the wagon master coming toward him.
Ezra Chambers’ face was as weathered as the team’s harness; his skin toughened by years of wind slapping his cheeks and sun cooking his forehead. Josh admired the man. Responsibility for every facet of the journey, from where to stop for lunch to when to enforce a rule, was solely his. Josh couldn’t imagine having to keep so many people in line.
“Seen your pa?” Chambers asked, rubbing his gray beard slowly.
“No, sir, not for a bit,” said Rebecca, cutting a lump of bacon into pieces.
As she answered, Josh caught sight of his father beyond the wagon train perimeter, water buckets in each hand. He pointed. Chambers gave a quick nod and strode purposefully toward Father. Chambers spoke, his voice too low for Josh to hear. Father nodded his head slowly. Soon Chambers walked away and Father joined them at the fire.
“Becky. Mr. Chambers needs your help.”
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|Reviewed by Budd Nelson
|an arduous way to journey