The cold air blew around me where I sat on top of the horse, but I was warm in my furs, with my brothers arm wrapped protectively around me. Warm physically anyway. I was chilled to the bone at the thought of what I had to do. All too soon we arrived at the wagon train.
As we had hoped they would have, if you could call it hoping, they had stopped to celebrate the holiday. Celebrate here on the chill prarie.
Most of them watched us as we came up. They didn’t have much else to do.
“I’ll drop you here, and I will start at the other end.” Jonathon said.
“OK”. Could I do this? As I watched the horse plod away, I knew I had to. I walked up to the wagon, the last wagon in the train.
“Ma’am.” I said, to the woman sitting by the fire, “Could I talk to you for a minute?”
She got up, not reluctantly. Most of us women out here were frustrated by the lack of chance to talk, and took whatever came our way. I led her off a few feet from the fire, out of earshot of the listening children.
“Ma’am. My name is Grace, Grace Watson. And I, we live a few miles over thataway.” I pointed. “We, ma’am, our parents died a few weeks ago. My mother fell through the ice in a small creek near our way, and my father pulled her out. They both got out alright, but the cold…” I paused, gathering strength.
“Ma’am. We’ve got to have a new ma and pa. Jon and I, that was my brother Jon, we can’t do it. There are five others at home ma’am. We’ve got a good place and all, and plenty of food. But we can’t keep up with the work. Jon and I have tried. But we decided.”
“Ma’am. Do you know if there are any girls in the train, girls old enough to get married I mean? My brother, he is looking for a young man. But he asked me to find the girl.”
The lady stared at me. How strange this must seem to her. But what choice did we have? We had to do something, or our family would starve. Not right away, but we couldn’t just live on false promises until then. We had had a family council, and this is what we had decided to do. Jon had seen the train stop here yesterday, and we had hoped that they would stay through today. Oh, what was she thinking?
“You’re a brave girl.” She said to me. And perhaps I was. But at 13 years old I wasn't old enough, or brave enough, or something, to care for all my siblings by myself, with only my 14 year old brother to help. He was strong, inside, but he had just turned 14 and was small for his age.
“Come with me.”
She led me up a few wagons, and called aside the woman. They talked aside, and I stared at the fire. There was a girl there. Just a few years older than me. I hoped she was strong. And I hoped…
I noticed the woman calling her husband over, and then the girl. I waited. And I prayed. “Oh God. The book says you are the God of the fatherless. Well, we’re fatherless.” I stopped. The girl was coming over to me. She took my hands, and lifted my head up.
“You OK I should be your new Ma?”
I cried. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want a new Ma, I wanted my old ma back. After a while I stopped, dried my eyes, and looked at her. I couldn’t imagine what she must be thinking.
“Ma’am. They're good kids ma’am. And Jon and I, we agreed. It will be hard ma’am, but we will do our best.”
She looked in my eyes. “I know that. I wasn’t asking that. I was asking you. Do you want… me. Can I be your new ma?”
I grabbed her, and hugged her, and cried. “Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Please. I’m so alone.”
I never did ask Jonathon how he had found the guy. We rode back together in silence. They were going to get their things together and follow us. And he never did ask me. But I told him anyway.
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