A cloud of dust blew in Susannah’s face, and she choked, squinting her eyes against the stinging grit and the glaring sun. Lifting her apron against her face, she wiped away the grime of tears mixed with trail dirt, then hid her eyes in the endless prairie again.
The wagon rolled on, lurching over hummocks of buffalo grass, then settling back into the worn ruts grooved by countless other wagons that had already passed. The bucket hanging on the side of the wagon banged hollowly, echoing the empty feeling in her heart.
Why had she agreed to this fanciful whim? Isn’t that all it was?
She looked quickly at Will. As usual, he was scanning the horizon and occasionally glancing at the broad backsides of the oxen, no doubt building their house in his mind, dreaming of his homestead. His homestead. Susannah had left her family and her treasured belongings behind, her piano, china, and books. All because Will wanted to chase his fancy, and it was Susannah’s duty to follow.
“Look at that.” Will indicated a makeshift cross, lopsided and forlorn, planted by the track. The name had been bleached away, forgotten already.
“That’s the third I’ve seen today.” Will went on.
Susannah didn’t answer. She closed her eyes against the glare of the late afternoon sun, shivering even though her dress clung to her with sweat.
Suddenly, the wagon slowed. The call to “whoa” and “catch up” travelled down the wagon train.
“I don’t know.” Will said, seeing the same bewilderment as he felt marking the faces of the other settlers.
The trail master’s deputy rode down the line. “Accident up ahead. We’re down for the night. Fatality, if you want to come up after you’re settled. Tom Harrison’s kid fell off their wagon.”
Will paled and put his arm around Susannah. Susannah felt the tears well up. She knew little blond Sammy, just two years old. How terrible. What an awful place this was!
Will was pale and grim faced as he swung their wagon into formation behind the other wagons. Jerking the reins, he forced the oxen to join the circle, his knuckles white and tight on the leather. Finally, he got down, then turned to help Susannah. He lifted her to the ground, then with a gentle hand which belied his previous sternness, he touched the bulging swell of her belly.
“What have I done, bringing you both here?”
Susannah turned away, taking in the eternal sweep of the plains, then looked back at Will. “I am afraid, Will.”
There was nothing more to say.
“I’ll make supper. Then, we’ll see the Harrisons.”
Susannah fixed a meal of dried meat and bannock over a fire using a few buffalo chips. They still didn’t speak, their grief for the Harrisons consuming, their own doubt suspended between them.
There was no water for clean up, setting up early as they did without finding a creek, so Susannah tucked away the dirty dishes, and they began their silent journey to the Harrison wagon. Will watched for holes in the grass, letting Susannah lean on him, especially as they drew nearer the mourning family.
The quilt-wrapped bundle was so tiny, so pathetic, it took Susannah’s breath away. There was a smear of blood across one of the patchwork pieces. Several women stood around Mrs Harrison; one held a mug of tea for her.
“I’m so sorry,” offered Susannah tentatively.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Harrison, a lone tear trickling down her cheek. “Now, go back to your wagon with your man. I’ll be fine. God gives and He takes away.”
The wagon ride resumed. There were more crosses by the trail, along with trunks, bureaus, castoffs of lives that were to be lived. Susannah shuddered every time she saw another teapot, another headboard.
Her fear grew along with her belly, expanding until her mind was absorbed with her anxiety about the baby, the homestead, Will.
Finally, came the day two things happened. They arrived at the land that was theirs, and as if in knowing they were home, their baby decided to be born.
Will’s fanciful vision wasn’t achieved at once or even in a few years. But neither did all Susannah’s fears come to fruition. Both were fulfilled in various ways, at various times... There were disasters and delights, upheavals and heavenly pleasures. They learned to balance each other, give each other love and laughter, in spite of loss.
Such is life...
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