The last days on the wagon train
|Carrie Wells, wrapped her brown braid into a knot around her head to keep it from swinging over the fire while she cooked. With a deft twist of the wrist the flapjack’s turned over on the griddle. Breakfast would be done just as Mr. Greer and his son Walter returned from their scouting trip. An anxious, almost excited buzz filled the air. The goal was in reach. Soon she would be married.
“Is breakfast ready?” A whiny voice called from inside the prairie schooner.
Carrie bit her lip and straightened. “Almost, Mattie. I think I see the menfolk coming across the ridge.” She pressed her lips together knowing the flurry of activity would ensue at the news. Sure enough, the sound of bumps, bangs and screams of frustration as Mattie, the young bride of Walter, hurried to dress before her husband arrived.
With practiced hand Carrie stacked the cakes in a pan and set them near the fire to stay warm. She had no idea if the men were on their way back, but they seemed to manage to be near when her cakes came off the fire. She had cooked the meals only to turn most of the serving to Mattie who pretended she had done the cooking. It had been this way from the beginning when Mattie had taken Cassie aside after they’d agreed to take her to Oregon with them.
“Do you cook?” Mattie asked.
Carrie responded with a definite, “Yes.”
“Over a fire pit you have to make?” Mattie’s eyes bored into her own.
“Yes. I’ve cooked outdoors before.”
“Then I’ll make a deal with you. You won’t have to pay full price to travel if you do the cooking then I’ll take over and serve it.” Mattie waited for Cassie to agree.
Cassie gave her the once-over look and knew the score. This little missy couldn’t cook but she didn’t want her husband and his father knowing. It was no skin off her nose, and it cut her price to travel west. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom," she'd whispered over and over on the trip. Sometimes not under her breath. The other women had taken up the mantra when Mattie sashayed around the camp.
She left Mattie to follow her routine and climbed the rocks to a spot overlooking the train. The mountain's shadow gave a welcome relief from the heat of the plains they’d traveled through. On the days the sun beat down on them with such fierceness, she was sure God wanted them all to turn around and go back. Then the rain. What was worse? She knew. She’d take the hot sun any day to the whining of young Miz Mattie Greer, who made her life miserable over the course of the trip, acting as if Cassie had been hired as her personal maid. The wagons were camped in two rows with their passengers milling between. She smiled at the way everyone seemed to move a little faster to get breakfast out of the way and everything packed. With the news the End of the Trail was ahead, you could feel the anticipation in the air.
A little way west of where she sat. She had the best view to watch everyone at their daily chores. The teacher stood before her students. Each morning, either in her large Conestoga or outside it, she taught the children their sums, letters and about the flora and fauna they found along the trail.
The thundering of hooves announced the return of the menfolk. Cassie remained on her perch watching the men. They rode on to their wagons greeting their families. Mr. Greer, Walter and a stranger stopped at their wagon. Mattie greeted the three and after a brief discussion shook her head.
Cassie furrowed her brow, who was the man? A traveler on his way East? Possibly a Trail boss on his way to bring another wagon train west. She grinned as Mattie pranced around the fire offering pancakes to her husband, father-in-law and the stranger. She imagined the screech when Mattie burnt her hand lifting the heavy coffee pot. Walter jumped up taking it from her poured coffee for the other two. Mattie patted his arm and handed the men the precious jug of syrup Cassie brought. She'd found Mattie soaking her pancakes and passing it to neighbors until the jug was empty. Cassie didn’t bring out her stash until a month had passed and the bottle was a different color. Then she’d hid it after each use. Now she realized Mattie must have gone through her things. Cassie would check to make sure none of her things were missing.
Whatever they’d asked Mattie she was having nothing to do with it. With a whirl of her petticoats she walked around the wagon and out of sight among the other women.
Mr. Greer walked down the line of wagons stopping to talk to a group here and there along the way. She frowned, what was he looking for? Each shook his head or called to their wife who responded with a negative shake. Was he looking for her? She looked back at the man. Had she been sent for? Was this her new husband?
She stood and brushed the dirt and dust from her skirt. She used her fingers to catch any stray hair and tucking them away. The train parked near a small river of mountain fed water. The livestock fed down stream to leave the fresh water for the campers. Last night she’d taken a towel and slipped out for a quiet wash up while the camp slept. She hurried to the edge of the water, splashed its coolness on her face and dried it with her apron. With her head held high and a firm step she headed for the wagon.
She didn’t get far. Mattie grabbed her arm from behind and pulled Cassie around to face her anger. “Don’t think you’re going to leave here.” she spoke through gritted teeth.
Cassie looked at her in confusion. “What are you going on about?”
“That man,” Mattie hissed, “has come from the Valley to talk to you. If you think you’re going to leave me here to cook and clean until we get to our home, think again.”
Cassie pulled her arm away from Mattie and patted her hand. “Now here, here," Cassie spoke as if she were talking to a small child, “You knew you’d have to start cooking sometime. What are you going to do when you get to your home? You said it was a big farm house with lots of land. I assume you must be able to have a cook. If not now is a good time to start. I have no idea who this man is or why he’s here.”
Mattie narrowed her eyes, “You knew he was coming? How did you know he was here?”
“It's no secret. I was sitting up there and saw it all. When I saw Mr. Greer talking to people, I guessed he must be asking about me, so I headed over to find out what’s going on.”
“Cassie, there you are. Where have you been, we’ve been looking all over for you?” Walter and his father interrupted the two women.
“I saw her sitting up there,” She pointed to where Cassie said she was. “I thought she should come down and see what the man wanted.” She smiled all sweet and innocent at the men while Cassie wanted to gag. Instead Cassie turned to walk to the wagon.
The man stood with his back to her talking to a few of the travelers. They seemed quite taken with what he was telling them.
“Here she is,” One of them spoke, as Cassie walked to them.
He turned and Cassie gulped. Blue eyes looked her over. He pulled off his hat and the sun glinted on light brown hair with strands of golden blond highlights. He smiled and a lone dimple in one cheek peeked at her. His teeth were white and straight.
“Hello, Miss Cassie, I’m Grant Fillmore.” The deep timbre of his voice struck a cord inside her and all her nerves sang to his tune. “I’m glad to finally meet you.” He held out his hand.
She placed hers in his, “The pleasure is mine, I’m sure.” She let the soft southern accent tinge her voice. He was here. The man who had paid her way to marry him. Why on earth did he need to do that. The man was drop-dead handsome.
“I got word your train was a day or so out. I had my men ride with me and see if you wanted to get to the ranch faster than plodding along. We can pick up your trunks when the train gets there.”
She couldn’t speak. He wanted her to go with him. To ride a day and maybe overnight to get her to the ranch. Why? Part of her was scared now that the day of reckoning had arrived.
“Yes.” She heard her voice answer and wondered where it came from.
He told her what she could bring and that they would be spending the night as his brother’s house before finishing the trip the following day.
She turned to Mr. Greer who beamed at her, “Of course you can go. We’ll catch up with you in Oregon City where you can get your trucks and boxes.”
Cassie grinned when she stepped into the wagon. She thought about Mattie. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom." She'd been told as a child. Now she would be on her own. It wasn’t proper, her going off with stange men. What if something happened to them along the way? She shrugged They got here safe, and I’m sure they feel it’s safe going back. she told herself.
In no time at all she had her large carpet bag packed with essentials for two days. That’s what it would take for the wagon train to travel to the of the trail.
Grant tied her bags to a horse and helped her into the saddle. He swung on to his horse with ease and gave a nod to those watching them leave. “I’ll see you at the End of the Trail.” Cassie called as she touched the sides of her horse.
They moved down the trail for a few minutes. The wagons were long out of site and the men with him divided into two groups, one up front and one trailed behind.
Grant looked behind him and pulled his horse to a stop jumping off. He came to her side and took her by the waist to pull her off her horse.
“Sorry, I can’t wait any longer for this.” And he pressed his lips to hers. Something inside she’d never knew she had exploded and began to burn her blood from her head to her toes.
If it felt like this when people kissed, how did they ever get their work done? She thought when she could wrap her mind around what she was feeling.