A western story told from the point of a woman. (cont) Chapter 2
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After the funeral, my aunt and uncle approach us with an invite to dinner. We assur them we could take care of ourselves just fine and not for them to worry about feeding us. My aunt then says they had something for us to consider. My curiosity took over and I agree for Liz and myself to attend dinner.
I sit between Liz and my uncle and we talk aimlessly about the weather and what’s been happening in town. My aunt cooked a very large meal and I have a hard time finishing my steak. The juice from the beets runs with my mashed potatoes and I stir them together with a fork prong; making the white potatoes a bloody red.
“So what is it you have to talk with us about?” I start the real conversation. Evelyn gives Pete an unsure look before she starts. She licks her lips and he nods in reassurance. Leaning forward, she starts slowly, then begins talking more rapidly.
“There’s good living out west we’ve been told. Gold can be found lying by the creek beds. There’s new land needing tilled and plenty of space. We’re leaving before the end of the week. We’d like you girls to come along.” I glance at Liz to see her reaction. Her eyes stare blankly at my aunt. I can’t believe my aunt and uncle are finally leaving. They have been talking about the journey for years now but seemed to lack in ambition to pack up and start a new life elsewhere. The idea seems well to me. I’ve always wanted to meet a real cowboy out west and see a savage Indian. Excitedly, I try to convince my sister.
“What do you think Liz? Start a new life out west, just like we read in the dime novels? Marry real cowboys? What do you think?” She remains unconcerned until I touch her arm. She nods in agreement and smiles before she pushes her chair back and excuses herself.
When the sun peeks its head over the hills a few days later, it finds us scurrying to pack what few items we can take into our covered wagon. Liz hitches up the horses as I barter with Mr. Biggs, the storekeeper, on the price of our remaining items of furniture. My mother’s chest must be left behind and the five dollars it brought I fear won’t satisfy Liz. The house we leave to the storekeeper as well as and he will sell it for us, then send after us the money.
Pete and Evelyn come along shortly in their wagon. Pete slows the mules with a slight tug on the reins and a gentle whoa. He jumps from the seat and finished tying down our belongings. There wasn’t much we could take along and I promise my sister new things upon arrival in California. Unfortunately, she has started to believe the hassle in moving and losing keepsake items isn’t worth a new life out west. Her favorite painting has to be thrown out and she yells she hates the idea of leaving our home; one of our few memories of our mother and father. I comfort her till she stops crying and Mr. Biggs gives us more than what the painting is worth. He tells us it’ll be a nice birthday present for his dear wife.
After all is said and our last goodbyes over with, I climb into the driver’s seat of the wagon. My dress takes up a large part of the seat and I try to push it down. Evelyn is still uncomfortable about me reining the horses but I tell her my father taught me well enough how to drive a team. Pete reassures her it will only be till the next town where we’ll catch up with another train and any young man would give up his rear post for the chance to drive his two beautiful nieces anywhere. He gives me a wink and clicks his team ahead. I smile at Liz and give her a gentle shove with my elbow. I start the team after the other.
“Stop! You must stop!” My sister cries beside me. Before I could even rein the horses in, she jumps out of the chair and runs back towards the barn.
“Liz, where are you going?” I yell after her.
“What in the hell is she doing,” asks my uncle, as more of a statement than a question. He has stopped his team and waits for us. Evelyn looks on with concern in her eyes, but not enough to convince me she doesn’t already think my sister has gone mad; that this long journey may not be suitable to a young child.
Liz comes running back with a bundle in her arms. She climbs back us beside me with a tearful smile. She opens the blanket on her lap and looks up at me as if she has found something truly amazing. This time, she has.
“I hadn’t seen him after father died. I thought he ran off but just now I heard a whine.” Inside the blanket is a small yellow haired puppy that she was given just last week by our neighbor. “I’m so glad I found you.” Liz pets the dog on the head and smiles down at it.
The rest of the day was long, dusty and dry. We stopped twice to water the horses and fill our canteens. Pete drenched his silk scarf in the river and onto his neck. We have been pushing the animals, along with ourselves, as to catch up with any other teams taking the long journey. I tell my uncle there is no need to worry about Indians. Being solely from the east, these creatures are new to me and I am ignorant about their powers.
We finally reach the town of Willow Springs just before dusk. Pete reins his team up to the Grand Motel. Men from the livery quickly come to stall the horses and put the wagons in the barn. One young man who was sitting on a bench outside the hotel jumps us when he sees my sister and I. The man is tall and skinny. His hair looks as if he has neglected to get it cut for quite some time, and most recently a good washing. It shags to his ears, pushed out even more wildly by his black cowboy hat. The man’s eyes may be dark and pushed back into his face, but they are not intimidating as some men’s eyes I have seen. They are soft and loving, as if nothing in the world could go wrong for this man.
He helps us struggle out of the wagon. My dress catches on the seat and I almost fall out of the wagon in his arms. He takes longer than necessary to let go of me.
“Clumsy me, I’m so tired and sore from riding all day.” I smile and give him my many thanks.
“Maybe I could help you with yer bags.” He has already grabbed my bags and leads me after Pete and Evelyn into the hotel. It’s a fine hotel with chandeliers and red carpet. The desk help is a short stocky man with a full beard and mustache. He reminds me of a leprechaun my mother read about before she passed.
We are sent upstairs to two separate rooms. The man carrying my bag is never a step behind me. I notice when he smiles he has lost a front tooth and has a scar on his lower lip. I wonder what happened and figure on a bar fight or trying to break a horse that got the better of him.
“This’ll be the last good night stay so enjoy it girls,” Pete tells my aunt, Liz, and I. “I'll send a request for some hot baths after we get settled. Maybe they can warsh our clothes so we won’t be as dirty when we reach California.” He lets out a chuckle and enters his room. I push open the door to room 12. It’s a nice room, with big windows. I have never stayed in a place so nice. The bed is freshly made and is soft to my touch. There is a large mirror by the desk and I position myself in front of it. Liz and the man have left for her baggage. The puppy is discreetly hidden in a bag and now peeks itself out of it and looks around the room. I glance back at my reflection. My blue dress is dirty with dust and mud from the crossings. My figure looks as my mother’s must have when she was my age. Long legs make up for a short stomach and rib cage. I rather like my long neck and when my hair is up tight as it is now it seems to stretch the length. I hope I am as lucky as my mom and dad were in finding love.
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