Now that Emma Thorpe’s husband has been killed on the wagon train to Oregon, she wants to return to Indiana, but the wagon master has forced her to marry Wagon Scout, Davis Cooper. He wants to make their marriage work; she intends to flee as soon as they arrive at their destination.
Emma Thorpe did not want to leave her life in Indiana to travel to Oregon on a wagon train, but her husband, Peter, had other ideas. Barely three weeks into the trip, Peter is killed, and Emmaline is shocked that the wagon master won’t let her return home.
Wagon Scout Davis Cooper has decided this would be his last scouting trip, he intends to obtain land in the new Oregon territory, find a wife, and start a family.
When the Wagon Master orders Emma and Davis to marry, she rebels, but eventually comes to realize she can’t go it alone, no matter how stubborn she is. But nothing will make her give up her dream to return home.
Can Davis change her mind, and have the life he’s always wanted with his unexpected wife?
Emma Thorpe shivered with the cold wind as she wrapped her arms around her shivering body, and huddled alongside her husband Peter. They inched their way along the line on the corner of Wagon Way and Fourth Street. The area bustled with wagons, children, animals and an abundance of noise. Above all the racket, deep voices of men cursing and shouting at each other as they wrestled furniture into their already overloaded wagons made her want to cover her ears and scream.READ MORE
Weary women called to children to stay out of the street, and the constant banging of blacksmiths had gifted her with a pounding headache. She figured there had to be over a thousand people here, who like she and Peter, were making preparations to start the journey west. She rubbed stiff fingers over her forehead and glanced at her husband of five months, whose eyes sparkled as he took in his surroundings and appeared to enjoy the noise and confusion as much as she hated it.
They clutched each other’s hands as they awaited their turn to meet with the Wagon Master, Mr. Ezra Franklin. Peter gripped the application in his hands, the one they’d worked on last night by the dim light of their campfire. They’d sat on a damp log, amidst other would-be emigrants, with their only lamp between them. Head bent, Peter wrote furiously with a lead pencil, his brow furrowed in concentration.
The loneliness and fear that gripped her brought tears to her eyes. Two weeks ago, she’d kissed her mama and papa goodbye, and left the only home she’d ever known in all her twenty-one years. She brushed at her damp cheeks with the heel of her hand as their name was called. Reluctantly, she followed Peter into the small makeshift office behind a blacksmith shop.
“Well now, who do we have here?” Ezra’s booming voice carried over the racket, as they entered the room, sending Emma’s heartbeat racing. Everything in this cursed place was so loud and unfamiliar. The large man sitting in front of them certainly matched his voice. Tall and broad enough to qualify as a bear, his long mustache and bushy beard presented a man used to being in charge. Sharp brown eyes assessed them as he leaned back in the large leather chair behind a table used as a desk.
Emma sat and adjusted her skirts, then clasped her hands in her lap. It was a good thing Ezra had a strong voice. The pounding and clanging coming from the blacksmith deafened her.
“Ezra, I’m Peter Thorpe, this is my wife, Emma. We were told to sign up with you when we reached Independence by a friend of ours back home, Monty Applegate, who said his brother’s family traveled with you.” Peter’s rehearsed speech came out in a breathless rush, which indicated to Emma her husband might be as nervous about this whole thing as she.
“Applegate…” Ezra tugged on his beard. “Yep, I remember them. Nice fella, pretty wife, and if I recollect, two little boys.” He straightened in his chair, and leaning massive forearms on the table in front of him, looked directly into Peter’s eyes.
“Now if y’all are serious about going out to Oregon country with my group, there’s a few things we need to get straight.” He reached behind him and pulled a paper off a shelf.
“Anything you say Ezra.” Peter wiped sweat from his upper lip. "We’re depending on you to guide us.”
Ezra reclaimed an unlit cigar balanced on the edge of the table and stuck it in his mouth. He held his hand up and began to tick off on his fingers. “First off, son, you have to have a sturdy wagon. Don’t be coming at me with a rickety contraption that you shoulda left at home. Next, most people get here thinking they have all they need, but I have a list of items that will make your journey a little more pleasant for the missus here.” He handed Peter a paper.
Emma glanced over Peter’s shoulder and examined the list. Just about all of the items they’d already purchased. Two hundred pounds of flour, one hundred-fifty pounds of beans, four pounds of bacon, plus coffee, sugar, salt, pots, pans, tools, a water barrel, and other basics that continued on down to the bottom of the page.
“Yes, sir, I think we’re well stocked. But Emma and I will go over the list and make sure. We want to make this journey as comfortable as possible.”
Ezra leaned back in his chair and chuckled as he held up three fingers. “Third point son. If you’re thinkin’ anything about this journey will be comfortable, y’all better turn around right now and go on home. This will be hard work and long days. You’re looking at livin’ in that wagon for six months or more, depending on the weather. The little lady here will be cookin’ over a campfire every day and washin’ out the laundry in creeks. It will be dusty, dirty and smelly.”
Ezra grinned while he recited the horrors of the trail. Peter swallowed several times, and Emma had to grip the sides of her chair to fight the black dots swimming in her eyes. She took a deep breath and bit her lip to keep from crying.
Stiffening, Peter patted Emma’s hand. “We’ll be just fine, Ezra.” He stood and grasping Emma’s elbow, tipped his hat. “If that’s all you need to tell us, we’ll be on our way.”
“Now hold on boy,” Ezra said, moving the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. “There are a few more things we need to go over. It looks like we’ll be ready to move out in three or four days, so whatever you need to git, do it now. It’s best to start out after things have had a time to dry out, and the grass is growing strong.” He shuffled several papers on his desk. “I also need you to sign this here agreement that every family head on this trip has to sign in order to travel with me.”
Emma and Peter returned to their seats, then reviewed the agreement. It contained the rules for the wagon train emigrants to follow. Everything from how much gambling and drinking would be tolerated, to agreeing that the Wagon Master would make all final decisions on any squabbles that arose while they were on the trail. The agreement outlined everything from dealing with criminal activities, to when and where they stopped for the night. Peter took the pencil Mr. Franklin held out and signed his name at the bottom.
Emma swallowed and took a shuddering breath. This was it. They were definitely leaving everyone she knew and loved and heading into the wilds of Oregon.
After taking the paper from his hand, Ezra folded it, and tucked it into a large envelope. “When you think y’all are ready, head over to the northwest part of Independence. There’s plenty of other wagons over there goin’ with us.”
He wished them a good day. As they left the hot, cramped, noisy office, another family entered.
Once outside, Emma tugged on the brim of her bonnet in an attempt to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. Even though the sun sat low on the horizon, the streets of Independence still overflowed with people. They passed more blacksmiths’ shops with the constant hammering and banging. Heavy wagon wheels were being strengthened with iron, and dozens of horses and oxen shod. Women with shopping baskets hurried along the boardwalk, while children with dogs following ran into the street, dodging wagons and horses.
The meeting with the wagon master rattled Emma’s already stretched nerves. She glanced over at Peter as they made their way along the boardwalk. He didn’t appear as confident as he had all along, and that increased her fear.
“Peter, we can still turn around and go back home. Mama and papa will put us up until we can find another place to live.”
“Don’t worry.” He took her hand to cross the busy street. “Ezra was making it sound worse so we can be prepared for anything. Monty said his brother’s family did just fine. You heard Ezra say he remembered them. They even traveled with two little boys.”
As they stepped into the street, she stopped and stared at him, her heart pounding again. “I’m just so scared. What if we’re attacked by Indians?” She licked her dry lips.
“Emma.” He tugged her against him to avoid a wagon loaded down with furniture. “Indians aren’t the problem everyone says they are. I’ve talked to more people than just Monty about this.”
He smiled and patted her hand. “Let’s get some supper at the hotel, and then find our wagon in this mess. Once we’ve checked everything over, we can drive to the area where Ezra told us to go. Maybe you’ll meet some nice women who will be travelling with us.” Peter laid his hand on the small of Emma’s back and steered her into the dining room of the hotel.
* * *
Supper didn’t calm her nerves, although Peter’s appetite didn’t seem to be affected by any second thoughts he may have had. She pushed the food around her plate as he chatted on and on about the exciting wagon train journey, and their wonderful life in Oregon to follow.
She sighed as he talked. Aside from her childhood friend Nathan Hale, she’d had little personal contact with men before Peter walked into her parent’s store seven months before. Peter had never been a customer in the mercantile, but she’d heard from other customers that he’d inherited his grandmother’s farm in southwest Washington County.
Tall, handsome, and charming, Emma was immediately smitten with the man. He stopped in the store a few times a week, and invited her on a picnic, and to a church social. After a two month courtship, they married. No sooner had they settled into the small farmhouse than Peter began to complain about farming. He wanted to breed horses, he’d told her. Farming, according to her new husband, would never give them the life he wanted.
She pushed the memories to the back of her mind and tried to force roast beef, mashed potatoes, biscuits and greens past her dry mouth. Why, oh why had she let him talk her into this addlepated idea? They could’ve bred horses right there in Washington County. Close to her parents. She sighed and shoved the plate away.
Darkness had begun its descent as they left the hotel and made their way through the crowds to the wagon. Peter had gone over the list Ezra had given them and declared they had mostly everything, but still had to make a few purchases. With so many people preparing to leave in a few days, the store owners kept their businesses open until almost midnight, not wanting to lose any sales.
They strolled past aisles of foodstuffs, clothing, and tools, meandering around piles of furniture that emigrants had left to lighten their load. They consulted their list, picking up some fresh eggs for the beginning part of their trip. After fingering bolts of cloth, Emma bought yards of flannel and cotton to make new clothing either on the trail or after they reached their new home. Peter added some leather to repair worn out shoes, a bow saw and an extra wagon wheel.
“How are we going to fit in this wagon with all the things we’re putting in here?” Emma rocked back and forth on the hard seat as Peter guided the wagon through the maze of others making their way to where Ezra’s group gathered.
“We’re going to mostly walk, and likely sleep under the wagon if it’s not raining.” The wheels hit holes and ruts in the road, almost throwing her off the seat. People scurried by, evading animals and wagons, as they dragged crying children behind them.
“Walk?” Emma gasped, her hands gripping the seat so hard her fingers ached. “You mean for us to walk all the way to Oregon country?”
“Once the wagon train gets going, I think you’ll rather walk at least some of the way.” He glanced at her and grinned at her wide eyes and slack jaw. “Haven’t you noticed this wagon is pretty bouncy?”
Tears rushed to her eyes as she turned and stared into the darkness. He’d dragged her away from her home, her parents, and everything familiar, and plopped her down in the middle of all this noise and confusion. And now he intended for her to walk all the way to Oregon!
If her parents hadn’t insisted she do her duty and follow her husband, no matter where he led, she would right now be back in her cozy bedroom in Indiana, Mama and Papa in the next room, like when she was a little girl.
After Peter parked the wagon to his liking near several others, he freed the oxen. She watched as his strong hands rubbed them down and led them to where dozens of horses, donkeys and other oxen chomped at the new grass and rested for the evening.
Emma swallowed the pain in her heart, and considered the dozens of wagons, loaded with furniture and children. If these people could travel with little children, then we should be fine.
She swung her gaze around the numerous campfires. Families were settling in for the night, calling to children. Emma rested her chin in her cupped hand, then winced as a small child fell from the back of one wagon, smacking her head against the wheel. The little girl wailed loud enough to wake the dead. A frazzled-looking woman with another child on her hip ran to the injured girl. Thank goodness the wagon wasn’t moving, or the child would have been run over.
* * *
The next morning a sliver of sun peeked over the hill, providing a bit of warmth on the back of Emma’s neck as she re-arranged the inside of the wagon. Stiff from the morning cold, her fingers fumbled and dropped things.
Steam emanated from Peter’s mouth as he whistled a cheerful tune, checking each wheel thoroughly, pulling and tugging on the spokes to make sure they were tight.
How in heaven’s name could he be so cheerful? Emma pulled her coat closer, trying to conserve her body’s warmth. Her bones ached from lying alongside Peter all night on the makeshift bedroll he’d made for them. They’d been bundled up, but the cold from the ground seeped through the blankets and their coats. Already uncomfortable from the unfamiliar hard packed earth, Emma tossed and turned most of the night.
She stood back, her hands on her hips, as she surveyed her work. Peter may think she was going to walk to Oregon, but she’d made enough space for her to sit inside, and padded the area with enough clothes so it would be downright comfortable.
A plump woman, apron strings flying, flew past her, racing after a chubby toddler. She scooped him up into her arms, panting while the child giggled. Flush-faced, the woman turned to Emma and smiled, trying in vain to control the still wiggling child.
“Hello.” She flipped the child around so his back was to her, with her arm wrapped securely around his middle. “I’m Sarah Boyle, and this here’s Stephen, my youngest.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Emma wiped her hands on her apron as she approached Sarah. “I’m Emma Thorpe, and this is my husband, Peter.” She nodded in his direction.
Peter tugged on the brim of his hat. “Ma’am.”
“I guess you’re all headed to Oregon country?” Sarah continued to take deep breaths.
“Yes, we are.” Emma smiled at the little boy, still trying to get away from his mother. “Are you with Ezra’s group, too?”
“Sure are. Buck–that’s my husband–said Ezra Franklin runs the best wagon train headed to Oregon country. We hail from Illinois. Where are you from?” Sarah now had the child under control. He turned toward his mother, and laid his head on her chest. Watching the adults with half closed eyes, he stuck his thumb in his mouth.
Peter wandered off, leaving Emma alone with her new neighbor.
“We had a farm in Washington County, in Indiana.” She couldn’t resist reaching out to run her fingers through Stephen’s soft baby curls. “Peter decided it would be better to sell it and move to Oregon country. He’d heard some wonderful stories about it.” She dropped her hand to her side and shrugged. “He managed rather quickly to find a buyer for our farm, purchased a wagon, and here we are.” Emma blinked rapidly at the tears that welled in her eyes.
Sarah touched Emma’s arm. “And this whole thing is more Peter’s idea than yours?”
“You could say that.” Using the corner of her apron, she blotted her eyes. She inhaled deeply. “I was happy in Indiana. My parents have a store in town, and Peter and I had a small farm. I thought we would be there until our old age. But Peter had different ideas.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sarah said with a tilt of her head. “Now Buck and me both wanted to strike out. We have four little ones, Stephen here, being the youngest. Buck did the blacksmithin’ in our town, and we had a small house, but we wanted more room for all these growing boys.” She kissed Stephen’s blond head that slumped against her as he slept. “You got any yourself?”
Emma winced at the heartache of her monthlies arriving each month right on time. Although it had only been five months since they’d married, she’d hoped to be starting her family by now. “No little ones for us yet.” She sighed, letting a bit of regret slip into her voice.
“Well, I’ll be happy to give ya one of ours,” Sarah laughed. Emma smiled at the joke, not seeing the humor in it.
Three stampeding young boys rounded the wagon and crashed into each other as they stopped abruptly in front of Sarah. They pushed and shoved, raising a dust cloud that choked the two women. The boys resembled larger versions of little Stephen, and quieted down after glimpsing the look Sarah gave them.
“Emma,” she waved in the direction of the three, “these little ruffians are my older boys.” She patted each boy on the head as she move down the line. “This here’s David, Michael and Joey.” The boys, who seemed to be somewhere between seven and twelve years old, nodded and mumbled “ma’am” before scrambling away.
“Come back here,” Sarah yelled. “You still have chores to do, and they need to be done now.” She shifted Stephen to her hip and started after them, and then glanced over her shoulder. “Why don’t you and Peter come sit with us after supper tonight? Buck’ll be glad to have company of another man. Most of the men goin’ on the trail are busy still buying supplies in town.”
“We would love that.”
The woman rounded the bend after the boys before Emma’s answer was out. “See you later.”
She hummed as she pulled things out to make biscuits to go with the beans she’d prepared for their supper. Her short visit with Sarah cheered her. Having another woman to share her troubles with could very well make this a pleasant trip after all. Maybe even fun.COLLAPSE