Katie and the Mustang, Book 2

BOOK: Katie and the Mustang, Book 2
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road,
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by Dutton Children's Books and Puffin Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004
Copyright © Kathleen Duey, 2004
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-17673-3


My childhood memories are set to hoofbeats:
a fog-softened gallop on a lonely morning; the joyous
clatter of friends pounding down the Canal Road;
a measured, hollow clop of a miles-to-go July afternoon;
the snow-muffled hoofbeats of wintertime; the squelching
rhythm of a close race with a rainstorm. These books
are for my dear friends, the horses of my childhood—
Buck, Ginger, Steve, and Cherokee Star.
Thank you all.
It was pure joy to be beneath the sky once more,
to have the other horses for company, to stand with them
every night under the stars. The little one led
the way and stayed close. Her voice and hands were always
soft, always gentle.
he night was nearly silent,just the sound of frogs and crickets, until it got really chilly; then they hushed, and all that was left was the creaking of Hiram's wagon and the clopping of the horses' hooves.
That first night, all I wanted was to get as far from Mr. Stevens as I could. But after we passed the home place, I kept wondering what my parents would have told me, if they had lived. Would they think I was foolish to leave Scott County? It was surely safer to stay somewhere in the valley. But where? With who?
I held tight to the Mustang's lead rope as we walked down the dark road, my thoughts a hopeless snarl. I was scared. I was really afraid of setting out on my own like this, with only Hiram for company. But I couldn't see any other choice.
I couldn't go back. Not ever. Mr. Stevens had lied to me about everything. He had never meant to take me or the Mustang west. He'd planned on leaving me at a home for orphans in St. Louis, and he had told Hiram to shoot the Mustang. I kicked at the dirt. How could he just
to me like that?
The Mustang tossed his head, startled when I kicked at the ground. I reached up to touch his cheek. “Mr. Stevens thought you were too wild to handle,” I whispered. “He never even tried.”
For a few seconds, I hated Mr. Stevens so much it made my teeth clench and turned my hands into fists. Even so, walking in the dark, I thought about going back, asking the McCarty family if I could stay with them after Mr. and Mrs. Stevens left. Then I shook my head.
They had little children, and they had seen the Mustang fighting to get out of the stall. They wouldn't want a dangerous half-wild horse on the place, even if they would have agreed to take in an orphan. And I didn't know them. They seemed nice. But the Stevenses had seemed nice at first, too.
I looked up at the scatter of stars overhead. “I'm scared,” I told the Mustang. He twitched his ears and touched my shoulder with his muzzle as we went on, clopping along after the wagon.
An hour or two before dawn, Hiram reined the mares to the right and found a flat place to stop the wagon. He unhitched them and tethered them to the planked rails that enclosed the bed of the wagon. The Mustang seemed content to stand and doze beside Delia and Midnight. I tied him loosely, hoping he wouldn't get startled and fight the rope.
We made our pallets from canvas tarps and blankets Hiram had brought. Mine was in the wagon bed on top of some of our supplies. Hiram made his on the ground beneath the wagon.
Hiram slept; I could hear him snoring. The Mustang was quiet and still. But I lay awake in the bed of the farm wagon, worries still pinwheeling in my mind. What if the Oregon land wasn't as good as Mr. Barrett had said when he was talking people into going with him? After all, people paid him to take them west. What if he was lying to get their money? I wanted Hiram to find good land. He'd worked so hard for the Stevenses and had been so kind to me.
I wondered if my uncle Jack had hired a guide. Not that it mattered very much now. However he had gotten to Oregon, he'd had time to get a farm started, so at least once I found him, I wouldn't have to worry.
I kept watching the dark shape of the Mustang, afraid some night sound would startle him awake. I knew he might panic if he backed up or reared and felt the pull of the rope—but he didn't. He dozed quietly all night. I was the only one who couldn't sleep. It was a relief when the sky grayed with dawn and Hiram woke.
“I want to show you something,” Hiram said once he'd started a little fire to boil his coffee. “I don't want to go east to Muscatine.” He got a stick, then scuffed a patch of dirt bare so that he could draw a map.
I stood close to the fire and shivered while he talked. It was chilly, but the shivers came from deep inside me. Mr. Stevens had laid out the route: farm wagons to Muscatine, then a steamboat to St. Louis. The smaller, half-size Conestoga wagons that people called prairie schooners would be bought there, along with supplies. Then the trek across Missouri would end in Independence. Most people began the journey westward there—leaving as early as spring would allow. But Hiram was describing an altogether different route.
“This makes more sense for us,” Hiram said, scratching lines in the dirt. “Straight west, hitting the old Fort Kearny Road, then on into Kanesville at Council Bluff to cross the Missouri.” I stared at his stick-scratch map and tried to still my fears.
It did make sense. The whole reason for the Stevenses going south down the Mississippi River had been to carry their household goods. Hiram had less than half a wagon full—and I only had a blanket bundle.
I exhaled slowly, giving in to my worries. What if the wagon wasn't strong enough to make it all the way to Oregon? It was just a four-wheeled farm wagon, with iron-rimmed wheels as tall as I was that creaked and groaned over every bump in the road. The leather shoe on the wooden brake was worn, and the singletree chains were rusted. The original plan had been to leave this wagon in Muscatine and board a steamship south to St. Louis. That's where the special wagons were sold, the ones built to take the steep rocky trails Mr. Barrett had talked about.
“Is this wagon stout enough?” I asked quietly.
Hiram nodded. “I think so, for what we have in it. I had the axles replaced with white oak, and the wheels are sound.” He looked at it, narrowing his eyes. “And we're not hauling much, even once we add provisions and such.”
“So where do we start the journey, then?” I asked him.
Hiram turned to look at me. “Council Bluff. Lots of wagon companies form up there, too.”
“Did Mr. Barrett talk about Council Bluff?” I asked Hiram.
He shook his head. “No. But his party was forming up in Independence.”
I nodded slowly. “But a lot of people leave from Council Bluff?”
Hiram nodded patiently at my needing to hear it twice. “And the Mormon families are camped there now, people say, several thousand of them.”
I wasn't sure what Mormon meant, but I was too tired to ask, and, to be honest, I didn't really care just then—it was how many that amazed me. I tried to imagine several thousand people all in one place. I couldn't.
Hiram tossed the coffee grounds out of his cup and stretched. “We'll sleep more tonight, I hope.”
I nodded. I wasn't sure I had slept at all for worrying. My eyes felt sandy, and I longed for water to splash on my face. Feeling uneasy, I helped Hiram harness the team, then rolled the canvas tarps and put them in the wagon. The Mustang seemed calm enough, though I could tell that he didn't like being separated from the wagon team. He nuzzled my cheek, and I could feel his warm breath in my hair.
Hiram climbed onto the driver's bench, and I took my place behind the wagon.
“Ready, Katie?”
“I am,” I answered, and the wagon wheels creaked into life as the mares leaned into the harness. I held the stallion back for a few paces, so we would have a little room for him to shy or skitter if he needed to, then I started forward. The Mustang followed me without hesitation, and I looked up at him. His honey-colored coat was dark dun in the dim light before dawn. Hiram held the mares to a walk, and I kept up fairly easily.
By midmorning, I was less scared. There is something about sunlight that chases worries away, at least for a while. There is also something comforting about the heartbeat sound of hooves on a dirt road—or at least there was for me. Every mile we traveled was a mile closer to Uncle Jack and a real family, a real home.
I had been right to leave a few steps of spare room between us and the wagon. The Mustang pranced and danced that whole morning, his tail high and his neck arched. I had to run alongside him sometimes, but he was careful of me. He watched me—and so did Hiram.
“All right back there?” he kept asking over his shoulder.
“Fine!” I answered every time, even though I was scared that the Mustang's high spirits would send him galloping across the endless prairie grass. There were no farms in sight, nothing but open land from one horizon to the other. If he got away from me, it was possible I would never see him again. The thought made my heart ache.
I clutched at the lead rope so hard that for the first three days I had painful hand cramps. Blisters raised up on my skin from holding the rope so tight.
BOOK: Katie and the Mustang, Book 2
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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