This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 935 words.
We soon found out that the woman had been lying to us. We hadn’t been in Kentucky at all, and were actually just south of there, in Tennessee. That meant turning north again, wasting a lot of time. I asked daddy why she would have lied. “I have no idea, son. Maybe she’s just ornery, or was hoping to send us wrong. Could be she even thinks she lives in Kentucky, as it’s so close to the border. Some folks are none too sure what state they live in. Either way, we have to get back on the right trail”.
So my thoughts about Kentucky had been based on being in the wrong state. But it still made me wonder about those unfriendly men in faded blue uniforms. What were they doing in a rebel state? I asked daddy, but he just shrugged. “Can’t say for sure. Men fought on both sides for their own reasons, ‘specially close to borders”.
Avoiding most towns of any size, and having to retrace our steps at times when the trail was impassable because of a weak bridge, it took us more than three weeks to get close to the Missouri border. And that was with daddy pushing the horses to the limit each day. I was tired from sitting on the wagon seat, and my rear end was hurting too. Sometimes I walked alongside, as I could keep up the same pace as our old ox. Daddy did well with the cooking, and making the best of our supplies, though the food was becoming monotonous, as it was mostly beans, taters, and old greens. He said he learned how to make do in the army, as there was always a shortage of good eating. The weather was hotting up, and we had to make sure to have enough water for the animals, as well as us.
Daddy wasn’t too happy about having to cross Missouri. Like some other states, there had been bad blood there at the start of the war, and raiders had made a lot of mischief. He figured they might still be up to their old tricks. He would look at his map, and talk to me about it around the campfire. “Reckon we will stay to the south of the state, do our best to hit the Kansas border by the end of next month. I have a mind to settle us in the Colorado Territory. Heard tell there’s good land there, and a whole lot of opportunity”. I hadn’t heard much about either Kansas or Colorado, so I just nodded, and carried on watching the flames.
Daddy could read some, but he didn’t write none too good. He could print his name though, and understand signs. Not that we saw many of those back then. I had learned to read and write at the church school in town, though that wasn’t regular once the war got bad. May Bloy would make me practice whenever we visited, as momma couldn’t read that well either. So I could do as well as most of the children in town, and knew my numbers too.
I tried to imagine life in Colorado, but it was impossible, as I had no idea what to expect. Daddy said it had mountains much bigger than the Blue Ridge, and it snowed hard in winter. He reckoned that the injuns still lived there in some numbers, but I had only seen them wild injuns in picture books, with their feathers and bows and arrows. The only ones I ever saw back home were old, and wearing normal clothes. They were the Rappahannocks, and peaceful like. But I put those thoughts behind me, as we had a long way to go yet, and two more big states to cross.
As we got the food cooking that evening, the horses got jumpy, and daddy looked back in the direction of the trail. A woman was walking in our direction. She was carrying a big bundle, looked like all her stuff wrapped in an old blanket. Most of the time it dragged on the ground, and she would heft it up for a few steps before it dropped again. From a way off, she called out. “Hey mister, can I share your fire, maybe some food?” Daddy frowned, and looked all around to see if there was anyone with her. “You alone, miss?” She nodded. “Sure am, just me”. Daddy didn’t say no more, so she just walked right in and sat down by the fire with a big sigh. Her button boots were ripped on the left foot, and her dress and coat were both filthy. I reckoned she wasn’t young, probably over forty.
Reaching across, daddy handed her a plate of taters and greens, and she started to scoop them off with her hands without even waiting for the spoon. She was licking the plate clean before I had even started eating. “Where you boys headed? I could sure use a ride with you. I could help out on the trail, even take care of both of you”. She grinned, showing missing teeth on top. “If you get my meaning”. Daddy shook his head. “Ain’t no room in our wagon, and we don’t need no taking care of. You can have some more food, and then you best be on your way at first light”. As he reached for her plate to ladle more food onto it, she pulled a pistol out of the pocket of her coat, and pulled back the hammer.
“Well that ain’t very neighbourly, mister. So I reckon I’ll just take it all”.