This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 838 words.
Daddy got us up and moving just after first light. We made good going that day in improving weather, and he pushed on until it was almost too dark to see to get the fire going. So he lit the oil lamp as he got the food ready to cook. There were not so many people on the trail, though we had passed some men in uniform, looking footsore and shabby. They were walking east, and daddy reckoned they were heading home to other places in Virginia. “Some of those boys have had to walk a mighty long way, Phin, and they still have a ways to go yet”.
The next morning, some riders passed us. They looked fit and healthy, and were well-mounted. They didn’t say anything to us, or acknowledge us, but daddy got real uneasy like. He stopped early, just outside of a small town we could see up ahead. “Don’t reckon we need to go into that town, boy. The trail starts to get steep after that, and I’m fixing to follow a different way”. I was sure he was worried about those riders, and thought they would be in that town. “I reckon we stay close to the Powell River for a ways, that should take us between the hills”.
We may have avoided trouble in the town, but sticking close to the river was hard going. A couple of times we had to backtrack to get around some woodland areas too tight for the wagon to get through, and after two days of that, daddy was starting to think we might need to get some more supplies in the next place we came across. Finding an established trail with some obvious wheel-ruts, he kept going until we spotted a house close by. “You stay in the wagon, Phin, and keep the rifle close. I’m gonna see if anyone lives there”. He walked up the dusty path, and stepped over a fallen rail in the fence. Just then, the door opened, and a woman appeared, carrying an old shotgun. “Just stay right there, mister, and state your business”.
She looked younger than my momma, and was wearing a thick apron over a blue dress. Her hair was piled up high, but bits were straggling loose across both sides of her face. She had some shabby pull-up boots on her feet, and they looked to be too big. Daddy raised his hands. “Don’t mean you no harm ma’am. Just me and my boy here. See, he’s in the wagon there. I just wanted to ask where this place is, and if there’s a town or store nearby”. She didn’t lower the shotgun, and kept her eyes on daddy. “You’re in Hancock County Kentucky, mister. Sneedville is up the trail a bit. You will be there long before dark”. Daddy backed up. “Thank you kindly, ma’am. Good day to you”. She stood at the door watching us until I could no longer see the house.
On the way into town, daddy told me that there had been a lot of trouble in Kentucky. The state had come out for the Union, but a lot of the fellas who lived there decided to fight for the rebels instead. “Spilt up families, Phin. Lots of bushwacking and mischief went on. I reckon that lady is on her own with a child, no man around. With so many men on the trails both ways, she must be scared to death”. I wasn’t used to people not being hospitable and friendly, but listening to daddy, I could understand why she might have been afeared.
Sneedville wasn’t much of a place. Just one main street with the usual stores, a doctor’s office, and a livery stable. Most of the men hanging around and sitting on porches were still wearing bits of blue uniform. Some had legs or arms missing, and all eyed us with great suspicion as daddy stopped the wagon outside the general store. “If anyone gives you trouble, just fire the rifle, Phin. Don’t shoot anyone, you hear. Just fire it in the air”. I felt a little worried. I wasn’t used to my daddy being so nervous. He was in there for a long time, but nobody came up to the wagon. I had a hand behind me gripping the rifle though.
A skinny boy followed daddy out. They were carrying sacks of stuff that got dumped in the back of the wagon, and daddy gave the boy some change for helping. As we drove out of town, daddy shook his head, and spit. “The prices were all wrong, Phin. Store-keeper says it’s supply and demand, war shortages and such. But he charged me double ’cause I’m a stranger, that’s what I reckon”. He flapped the reins to make the horses walk faster, and the poor ox had to break into a trot behind.
When I could no longer see the town behind me, I felt relieved. My first experience of Kentucky had left me worried.