Love's Long Journey (Love Comes Softly Series #3) (10 page)

BOOK: Love's Long Journey (Love Comes Softly Series #3)
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78

Chapter 13

Breaking Camp

The usual order of the camp was not in evidence the next morning. The 'town,' as Mr. Blake feared, had produced its casualties. Tillie Crane had found her hairdresser. She had also found a job in a dress shop, and she adamantly refused to move one more step into that "God-forsaken" land of wind, sun and rain. Her husband had spent the night badgering and pleading by turn, but nothing was to make Tillie change her mind. A broken Jason Crane finally came to inform Mr. Blake that their wagon would be withdrawing. There was no way that he would travel on without his wife. He'd see what he could do for a job in Lipton. Surely there was work somewhere for a man who was willing.

The Cranes weren't the only ones with problems. A number of the men from the train had been "out on the town." Most of them staggered in, sometime during the night, in various stages of disrepair. Mrs. Kosensky had taken care of her husband--a cold bucket of water for his outside, several cups of hot coffee for his inside. The next morning he was bleary-eyed and belligerent, but ready for travel.

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Jessie Tuttle handled her driver-brother, J.M. Dooley, simply by stuffing him into the wagon and hitching the team herself.

Mrs. Thorne had the most trouble. Her husband failed to reappear at all. After waiting tight-lipped, she set off for town in search of her errant man but strode back to camp empty-handed after two hours of searching. It was Mr. Blake's turn. Maybe he was more familiar with where to look; at any rate, after about three quarters of an hour, he returned. The livery wagon followed, delivering a very sodden Mr. Thorne. His wife said nothing, simply nodding to the men where Mr. Thorne was to be placed and picking up the reins of her team.

After three hours of delay, the teams finally moved out. By then the sun was already hot, the children cranky, and the adults out-of-sorts.

Mrs. Thorne did not so much as give her neighbors a nod or a suggestion of apology. She smacked her team smartly with a rein and maneuvered into position, her face stern and her eyes straight ahead.

Missie shook her head as the woman drove by her. It had been told that Mrs. Thorne had known all along her husband wouldn't remain in the camp mending harness and that she knew exactly what he would do once he got to town. It had happened many times in the past and would likely happen often in the future.

Missie was sure that the invincible Mrs. Thorne would be able to cope. Nothing seemed to shake that woman from solid- rock indifference.

Mrs. Thorne smacked her team again and passed on by, her hands steady, her eyes unblinking against the glare of the midmorning sun. Missie almost missed it, but it was there--and what she saw made her stop short and catch her breath; for unmistakably running down the coarse, tanned cheeks of the woman was a steady stream of tears.

When Missie could breathe again she whispered, "Ya poor soul. Here ya are a hurtin' an' nobody knows--nobody even suspects, so no one reaches out to you in understandin'. Oh. . . God forgive me. Forgive me for not seem' past her stiff jaw to the hurts and the needs. Help me to help her, Lord--to show her kindness and love. She needs me. She needs
You,
Lord."

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Thereafter, Missie took every opportunity that she could find to greet the woman with a smile, to show little acts of kindness in any way that she could.

The older woman did not really melt, but she did begin to show a little softness around the firm, hard edges of her soul.

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Chapter 14

Rebecca

They had been on the trail four days since leaving Lipton, and seemed to be making good progress. The men who had visited the tavern had sobered up, and were now back to their hard tasks. But it was strongly suspected that J.M. Dooley had somehow managed to smuggle some whiskey along in his wagon-- against Mr. Blake's orders. It was a real source of contention between J.M. and Jessie Tuttle; and, of course, anything that affected Jessie, Mrs. Page considered her right to become involved in as well. So, a three-way war was now raging.

Folks smiled at the ridiculousness of it all, but finally Mr. Blake decided that it was time to step in. J.M.'s booze was discovered and discarded. Mrs. Page and her wagon were assigned a new position at the end of the line far from Jessie Tuttle. Things seemed to settle down again.

When they made camp the fourth night, a message was sent to Missie as she cleaned up after the evening meal. It was carried by Mrs. Kosensky's daughter, Nell.

"Ma says, could ya come to Mrs. Clay? She been in labor

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most of the afternoon, an' wants to see ya."

Missie's eyes opened wide in surprise. She had missed Becky that day but had supposed that she just didn't feel up to taking in her customary short walk. She called over to Henry to tell Willie where she would be and quickly reached inside the wagon for a shawl. She almost ran in her eagerness to get to Becky, but held herself back lest others watching would be unduly concerned by her haste.

As she approached the wagon, she could hear Becky's soft crying. She ran the last few steps and was met by a very worried- looking Mrs. Kosensky. Instead of inviting Missie up, the other woman climbed down. She drew Missie aside and began to speak in a whisper.

"Ain't good, Ma'am, ain't good. Me--I deliver babies. Yes, lotsa babies--but this kind, no. He small--he twisted--and he early." She shook her head, and Missie noticed tears in her eyes. "Ain't good. She need a doctor--bad."

"May I see her?" Missie begged, longing to be a source of comfort and aid to Becky.

"Yes--yes, do."

Missie brushed by the woman, and scrambled up into the wagon. Becky was flushed and damp with perspiration. Missie looked at her pale face in alarm. She reached for Becky's hand, and then began to smooth back her long, loose hair. She spoke softly. She really wasn't aware of what she said to Becky, but it seemed to comfort the anguished girl.

Missie stayed with Becky for most of the night, but the situation did not improve. Occasionally, Becky seemed to drift off into a troubled sleep but she was soon reawakened by her discomfort. At length, Willie, who had come to wait outside by the fire with John, suggested that Missie should get some rest or she would be in danger, too. Mrs. Kosensky agreed.

The next morning the LaHayes crawled wearily from their bed and began the preparations for another day on the trail. Missie sent Willie over to ask about Becky. He returned with the news that nothing had changed. Missie's heart felt heavy as she continued preparing their breakfast.

While she was hurrying to pack up their belongings, one of the

'

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trail scouts came by on his horse. He stopped at each wagon with the same message.

"Mr. Blake says we stay put today. He's not breakin' camp 'til thet baby's arrived."

Missie felt much relief and would have willingly hugged the grisly wagon master. She could not imagine what it would be like for Becky if she had to bounce around in a moving wagon.

The day dragged on. A rider had been sent back to Lipton the night before to see if a doctor could be found and brought to the camp. Everyone who knew how, and even some who didn't, prayed that there might be a doctor and that he would arrive soon.

The women tried to keep busy with a little wagon cleaning and men checked harnesses and wheels. Neighbors used the long hours as an excuse to sit and discuss anything that came to mind. Still the time only crawled; by the time the day was coming to an end, everyone's nerves were on edge. Becky and her unborn baby were a heavy concern on everyone's mind.

With no more valid reason to stay up, they finally extinguished their campfires and went to bed, hoping that the good news of the baby's birth would reach them during the night.

It did not happen.

As they stirred about the camp the next morning, the news spread quickly that the child had not yet been born. Another long day began. With no harnesses to mend and no further wagon cleaning to be done, time lay heavy on hands and minds. Yet hope remained alive. Surely with more delay the doctor from Lipton would have plenty of time to make it. But the rider finally returned, tired and dusty and with a weary, limping horse. There was no doctor in Lipton.

It was almost one-thirty in the afternoon when Mrs. Kosensky climbed down from the Clay wagon. Willie, Missie and several other neighbors had been waiting outside. No one had heard the cry of a newborn baby. Mrs. Kosensky's shoulders sagged and tears coursed down her plump cheeks. To the waiting friends she shook her head.

"No," she said brokenly. "No--he did not make it, the little one."

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"Oh, Becky!" cried Missie, "poor Becky. She'll be heartbroken."

"No," said Mrs. Kosensky, again shaking her head. "No. The little mama--she did not make it either."

For a moment Missie chose not to understand, not to believe. But she knew, as she looked at the older woman, that the news was indeed true. Then, from the depths of the covered wagon, came the muffled sobs of a man.

"Oh, dear God," Missie prayed, putting her hands to her face and letting the tears flow freely. Then she turned to bury her face against Willie's shoulder, and he held her close for a time and let her weep. When her spasm of tears seemed spent, he gently put her from him.

"I must go in to John," he said. "Can you make it to the wagon alone?"

Missie nodded, but it was Henry who led her away, easing her over the rough terrain and opening the canvas flap so that she could step into the wagon.

She laid herself down in the stuffy heat and let the tears wash away the sorrow and confusion in her soul.

The funeral service was held the next morning. John stood in stunned silence as the young mother and her infant son were laid together in a blanket. Shock and grief had numbed his mind, and he didn't seem to comprehend the event.

After the service was over, the wagons were quietly ordered to move out. The men guided their animals into line silently, thoughtfully. Willie had suggested that John ride with them for a while but he preferred to be alone. Missie rode beside Willie, but they had not gone far before she asked to be let down.

She stood quietly for a time, letting the wagons roll past her, turning her back to the dust swirling from their wheels. When the last one had gone by, Missie looked back the way that they had come. In the valley below was the circle where they had camped. The evidence of a recent train was still there--the trampled grass, the campfire ashes, the wheel marks--and there, just to the left, was the little mound of bare earth marking the spot where they had left Becky. For a moment Missie wanted to run back; but she knew that it was pointless. Becky was gone from

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them now. Missie felt some measure of comfort in the thought that Becky was not alone. Beneath the earth, she held in her arms her baby boy.

"Good-bye, Becky," Missie whispered. "Good-bye, Rebecca Clay. You were a dear, sweet friend. May you--and your little one--find great pleasure and comfort in the house of God." And with tears streaming down her cheeks, Missie turned to follow the wagons.

Just as Missie turned to go, a lone rider emerged from the bushes in the valley and stopped beside the soft mound. Missie recognized the form of Mr. Blake. The man dismounted from his horse and approached the new grave. He removed his hat and stood momentarily with bowed head. Then he bent down and placed a small cluster of prairie flowers on the fresh earth. As he turned and mounted his horse, Missie felt a fresh stream of tears slide down her cheeks.

That was a lovely thing to do,
she thought.

But Missie had no way of knowing that many years ago, the same man had stood beside another mound--one that held his own wife and infant son. At that time, too, he had been forced to ride away and leave them to lie alone beside a prairie trail.

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Chapter 15

A Tough Decision

There was a measure of comfort in the fact that Tettsford Junction was getting nearer and nearer, but the days always seemed long. Missie kept herself occupied as much as she could. She carefully looked after her own responsibilities, as well as devoting much time to helping others--especially Mrs. Collins. The two youngsters kept quite healthy, in spite of the rigors of the trail; but they still required a lot of time and attention.

Missie and Willie had not yet been able to talk about Becky. Missie cried often. If Willie was there when she cried, he held her close, stroking her hair and listening with his heart. They both realized that sometime--and sometime soon--they must discuss it. Hopefully, their hearts could then begin to heal.

John Clay was always included in Willie's evening prayer. But though Missie ached for John, she also realized that she felt a twinge of resentment toward him.

One night, after they had retired, Willie gently broached the subject.

"It easin' some 'bout Becky?"

BOOK: Love's Long Journey (Love Comes Softly Series #3)
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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