This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 805 words.
Daddy got back with the wagon and horses a few days later. He had stocked up with all we would need while he was in town, and we started to pack our things into the back. I had imagined a much bigger wagon, like the ones used by the old pioneers that I had seen in picture books. I worried that our wagon wouldn’t have enough room for us two, once everything was inside. But daddy told me we would sleep on the ground most of the time, under the wagon. When the weather was bad, we could put the quilts on top of all the stuff, and make the best of it.
Being good with tools, he easily took the plow apart, so it didn’t take up so much space. There was our food, and fodder for the horses and the ox too. It was soon filling up, and he decided to take the two good chairs along. “We can sit on them ’round our camp fire, Phin, then use them when we build our house”. He hid the money and valuables in a leather bag inside a bag of corn, and showed me where, putting it to one side so as not to mix it up. By the time everything was packed away, I started to hope it wouldn’t rain, as I still couldn’t imagine where we would find space inside.
Mister Schultz rode out, to officially take posession of our farm for the Yankee buyers. He shook daddy’s hand, and wished us both luck. Then he handed over a good new map he had got from somewhere. It was a real map, drawn proper, with hills and rivers marked, stretching all the way west, including San Francisco. It had to be folded six times, it was so big. Much better than the hand-drawn one daddy had brought back from the war. And it was on funny paper, waxy-like stuff. The agent smiled. “You won’t have to worry about getting this one wet, Jessie, but keep it safe”.
As we turned the wagon west and drove away from the farm, daddy told me not to look back. “Keep looking forward, boy. We ain’t looking back no more”. The wagon was bumpy, and very noisy. Daddy had tied so many pots and pans and things to the sides, even a spare wagon-wheel, they made a fearful racket. And we could only go as fast as the ox could walk, as it was roped on behind. Daddy named the horses Ethel and Mary, but the ox never had no name. It was always just ‘the ox’. I figured it was going to be a long trip, and reckoned we would be lucky to be out of the state by the end of the week.
Before it got too dark, daddy showed me how to handle the horses. I would have to spell him from time to time, but we were not going to travel after dark, for fear of breaking a wheel, or driving into a ditch. Ethel and Mary didn’t need too much handling at that pace, and they seemed content enough to plod along with no coaxing. I just had to steer them around some bends, and away from the biggest holes on the track. It felt strange to be leaving our county, and heading for the Kentucky border. Daddy had marked a place to stop that night, close to a small river. It didn’t have a name, but he said he would know it when we got there.
It was almost dark when we stopped, and sure enough there was a small river, and a stand of trees where we could tie up the horses and the ox. Too late to go searching for firewood, we used some that he had brought in the wagon, and soon had a fire going. I had never been on a trip for fun, but it sarted to feel like one as he heated up some stew over the fire, and the flames made my face hot. With no outhouse, we did the necessary behind the trees, and I had the job of feeding the animals before we settled them. Daddy put some oilskins under the wagon, and placed the quilts on them. With a rough blanket over each of us, and using our folded arms for pillows, we soaked up the heat from the fire that he had just put more wood on.
He lay quiet, smoking his old pipe, and watching the flames. I wanted to ask him about the war, and what had really happened to Cal. But he didn’t appear to be in the mood for talking. Before we settled down, he checked the Colt pistol, and placed it just inside his blanket.
“Just in case”, he said with a smile.