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Damien calls his daughter Sarah defiant and rebellious, but she only wants to find love, and be treated like the adult woman she is. Her cousin helps her hide from her parent, and gives her a chance to escape. Walking all night, Sarah comes across a wagon train. She has found a wagon that seems to have no one around and hides inside, hoping her father won’t be able to find her so far away from home.
Parker is a very sad man. His wife died over a year ago, but he still misses her with every breath he takes. When the wagon master asks him to become one of his riders, and be responsible for a section of the wagon train, Parker is honored. Work will keep his mind off Eleanor’s death. A young man is hired to drive Parker’s wagon, and they remain unaware of Sarah’s presence within. She continues to hide, and her father is thwarted when he asks to search the wagons.
Eventually, Sarah is discovered, and Parker feels like taking her over his knee. However, her story tugs at his heart. It is the wagon master’s decision if Sarah be allowed to stay, or sent home to her cruel father. But that decision is shocking to both Parker and Sarah. What will they do?
Sarah hid in the shadows of the old barn and held her breath. She couldn’t allow them to find her. She knew she would be punished, even more harshly than the last time she tried to escape.
“She isn’t here, Brother Damien.” It was her cousin Ezekiel’s oily voice. Her father must have lowered his pride to ask for help, or it was just her luck that family stopped by after the long service to voice a grievance, or to ask their leader for a special favor. Ezekiel was forever trying to get her alone, never mind that she was his blood relative.
“What of you, young Daniel? Do you see that willful child anywhere?” This time her father was speaking to another of her cousins.
Suddenly, Daniel was right in front of her, looking into her startled green eyes. He winked at her, smiled, then said, “Twas just a little black kitten, Brother Damien.”
“Cats are evil! Let us leave this place at once!” Brother Damien feared and hated cats, and Sarah thought it was smart of Daniel to use her father’s fear against him. He thought all cats were bad luck, but black ones meant death. Sarah wanted to giggle, but she remained quiet. She heard their horses as they rode home, her father stating they would resume the search in the morning.
Sarah was used to hard work on the farm, and the prospect of walking all night to get away from her father and his strange ideas of religion and life did not faze her in the least. She would not go back. Her father would lock her in a cellar, and deny her food and water until she was too weak to fight him. Then he would beat her until he saw blood soak through her clothing, claiming it was to drive out the devil. He would then have her stepmother scrub her with lye soap to wash away her disobedience. Sarah decided that she would rather die than go back to his mistreatment of her.
Sarah walked all night, thankful for the full moon that guided her steps. Just before dawn, she came upon a wagon train. She chose a wagon that seemed to be unattended, climbed inside, and hid behind a pile of quilts, next to large bags of flour. It wasn’t long before someone climbed onto the seat of the wagon, and at the command, “Wagons, ho-oh!” the wagons slowly moved forward. The gentle, rocking motion lulled Sarah into a sound sleep after walking all night.
PJ wiped his brow on his shirtsleeve. It was going to be another hot, dusty day. The wagon master would keep them rolling until the sun was high. They would stop then to rest the stock, and give the women time to feed their children something simple to tide them over until supper. Evening is when he would miss Eleanor the most. She always cooked to please him after a hard day’s work. PJ would smell the kettles of food, and the memories would assail him even more. It had been an entire year now, but it didn’t get any easier. While tending her garden, Eleanor was bitten by a spider. The bite slowly poisoned her and she died a painful death three days later. Try as he might, PJ simply couldn’t live with all the reminders of Eleanor everywhere he looked. He sold their farm, traveled to St Joe, and booked his spot on the wagon train. He was going to Oregon to start a new life. There was nothing left for him in Illinois. His parents were gone too, and he had no siblings. It seemed best to leave the memories behind.
PJ was startled when he heard cries of, “Whoa-a,” travel the line of wagons. “What is going on Mr. Hayes?” he asked one of the men who worked for the wagon master as he rode past.
“I was just riding forward to find out, Mr. Jacobs. I’ll let you know if it’s anything important.” He rode off, and PJ decided to take a drink of water from his canteen. It was a purchase he didn’t regret making. It was nice to be able to take a drink when the dust got to him.
He noticed Mr. Hayes stopping at each wagon and speaking to the driver before moving on. The rider finally reached PJ. “Mr. Jacobs, some men stopped Mr. Abernathy and asked if anyone saw or gave a ride to a young girl? She is a runaway, and her father is demanding to search our wagons. Mr. Abernathy refused, telling them it would take too much of our time, but he agreed to asking everyone if they saw her.”
“No, I haven’t seen anyone I didn’t recognize as belonging to the wagon train. How old is she?”
“I don’t reckon they said, and I didn’t think you saw her either. They admitted they were nearly twenty-five miles from home!” He rode off, and PJ shook his head. The girl probably ran off with a boy, was his prediction, and there would be a hasty wedding when she turned up.
Inside the wagon, Sarah was praying that she wasn’t discovered. She wanted to kiss Mr. Abernathy for saying no to searching the wagons. However, she wouldn’t be safe until she knew whether or not she could convince Mr. Jacobs to take her with him.
Eventually, the cry to head out started the wagons to rolling again, and Sarah fell asleep once more.
PJ put his mind to considering his future, one that did not include his Eleanor. He was a good farmer, and he was assured there was plenty of land in Oregon. He also thought he might like to do something completely different, but what? He could be an accountant, but sitting at a desk all day would bore him completely. He loved being outdoors.
“Mr. Jacobs, is everything going well with you today?” Mr. Abernathy rode up and asked.
“Yes, sir. How are you?”
“Well, not so good. One of my men quit on me. I was wondering if you would consider taking on some of his duties, for pay of course. I can get one of the older boys to drive your wagon if you think you would be willing to take on some responsibility? If you want to think on it, I can wait until we stop tonight for an answer. You aren’t a hothead. You get along with folks, and you keep your wagon in good condition without having to be told. I want someone who can handle an emergency without falling apart. You would ride the line, looking for trouble in any form, whether it is sloppy driving, Indians, outlaws, a man smacking his wife around – mind you, I’m not talking about a spanking given with love, but an out-of-control man taking his anger out on a defenseless female. I won’t allow that on my wagon train.”
“I am honored you thought of me, sir.”
“I talked it over with a couple of my men, and your name was the one we felt best for the job.” Mr. Abernathy was a plain talker. He didn’t lie, and he didn’t coat the facts.
“I will be happy to help out if you can find someone to drive my wagon.” PJ would love to be kept busy so he wouldn’t have time to brood over the past.
“We’ll take care of that tonight. Come on over and have supper with us.”
“Thanks.” PJ was flattered that he was asked to work. He could use the extra money to get started in Oregon.
The voices woke Sarah. Maybe she could offer to drive the wagon? She was used to hard work, and she needed to support herself. However, she thought it best to hide until she was found. Surely she could find something to eat inside the wagon? They stopped at noon, and shortly after, were underway again. Sarah slept the afternoon away, and was surprised that it was already growing dark when they stopped for the night. She was simply ravenous, but stepping out of the wagon now could put her at risk. She knew they didn’t travel far, and she would stick out as a stranger.
PJ didn’t build a fire when they stopped. He had a supper invitation, and he was certainly not going to need a fire to stay warm tonight. It was hotter than Hades as it was, and sleeping on the ground would be preferable to sleeping inside the wagon. He washed up a bit in cool water, and it felt good on his skin. He then combed his hair, and walked off to find the lead wagon. He hoped that the man who cooked for Mr. Abernathy and his men was a good cook. He was lousy at it.
Once Mr. Jacobs was gone, Sarah came out of hiding and searched the interior of the wagon for something she could eat. She also needed water in the worst way, and even more urgently, she needed to relieve her bladder. There was no help for it. She had to take a risk and leave the wagon long enough to take care of her basic needs. Sarah hurried away from the wagons and found a bush to hide behind. Her relief at finding some privacy was short-lived when she heard a couple coming her way. Sarah panicked, but soon learned the man and woman were so focused on their argument that they weren’t even aware anyone was near.
“James, I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“What do you call complaining all day long?”
“It was hot!”
“Lizzie, it was hot for everyone, not just for you. All you did today was complain and whine about your misfortune to be on a wagon train. We agreed to make this journey, and I warned you right up front that it would be hard going, didn’t I?”
“No, buts. Didn’t I tell you early on to stop complaining? Yes, I did. Didn’t I warn you that you were asking for a spanking? Yes, I did. Now you are going to get that spanking, and when you are squirming on the wagon seat tomorrow, perhaps you’ll remember not to open your mouth if all you are going to do is complain.”
“You can’t seriously expect to spank me, James? There are too many people around. Someone will hear!” she wailed.
“Good. I hope they do. Then they’ll know that I dealt properly with your childish behavior. I didn’t hear anyone else complaining every minute of the day, just you.”
“James, I will run away if you do this!” Lizzie threatened, stomping her foot.
“Good. Then I won’t have to listen to you all day tomorrow.”
“No, James! Please!” she begged, as he hauled her over to a rock and then took a seat. “No!”
James pulled her over his knee and pushed up her skirts to reveal her naked bottom. “What is this? No drawers?” It was clear that James was scandalized. “Another reason to spank you.” His hand landed hard on bare flesh, and Lizzie cried out in pain. James continued the spanking, dealing spank after spank on his wife’s chubby posterior.
“I hate you! I hate you!”
“No, you don’t. What you hate is being spanked.” He continued to smack her bottom until she was crying, and finally, Lizzie was telling him how sorry she was.
“Please stop, James. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
James stopped the spanking to talk to her and gauge if she was really sorry, or just sorry she was over his knee. “What are you sorry for, honey?”
“For complaining, even after you asked me to stop. You’re right! I was whining like a spoiled brat. Please forgive me.” When she reached that point, he decided she’d learned her lesson and he stopped the spanking and turned her over to sit on his lap. He held her while she cried.
“It’s over now, honey. You won’t be so quick to complain from now on, now, will you?” James spoke softly.
“No, I won’t. I was miserable today, but I made it worse for us both by constantly finding things to add to the list of grievances. I ruined your day.”
“Not completely,” he teased. “You can make me a happy man again by fixing me some supper,” he said with a smile. “You know that I love your biscuits.”
“Thank you, James. I will make you a big batch to enjoy,” she promised. He lifted her to her feet, then she took his hand, the one that was still warm from spanking her, and walked with him back to camp, all smiles now that the spanking was over.
Sarah felt a bit sorry for Lizzie, but she also knew what it was like to be around someone who complained constantly. Her stepmother, her father’s third wife, complained to her and about her all day long. She also made sure to get her in trouble with her father as often as she possibly could, resulting in getting Sarah sent directly to bed without eating a bite of food after she’d worked hard all day long!
Tonight, Sarah was lucky and found some berries to eat, but the aroma coming from some of the campfires was making her lightheaded.
“Hello, young lady.” Sarah jumped as the elderly woman addressed her. “I’m Emma Crabtree, and who would you be?”
Discovered! What else could she do but answer a direct question? However, there was no need to volunteer any extra information. “My name is Sarah.”
“Well, Sarah, you are certainly welcome to have supper with me tonight. My driver is eating with the wagon master, and I do hate eating alone.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” she said politely.
“It was a hot one today.” Emma made conversation as she stirred the pot. “I should have asked if you like chicken and dumplings? It’s my favorite meal, and I packed a few jars of my own canned meat to have along the trail.”
“That was very wise of you. I love chicken and dumplings.”
“Good. Will you be missed from your own wagon?”
“No, ma’am. Mr. Abernathy also invited my driver to eat supper.”
“Well, it’s good we were both returning from the bushes at the same time. I shouldn’t gossip, but did you hear James Collins spanking that spoiled wife of his? She sure did have it coming. My Abraham, rest his soul, would have pulled our wagon over and spanked me in the moment.”
“Did you hate him for spanking you?” Sarah asked curiously, and then covered her mouth in embarrassment. “I am so sorry. My mouth forgets to have manners sometimes! I apologize.”
“Don’t be silly, Sarah. I started the conversation, and my mouth doesn’t have manners, period.” She laughed, and Sarah laughed with her. “No, honey, I didn’t hate Abe for spanking me. There were plenty of times I deserved one and he forgave me instead.” She checked her dumplings again. “Just a few more minutes and we’ll be eating well. I wouldn’t have said anything about James and Lizzie if I didn’t think you heard the same thing I did. I don’t think it is something to share with the others on the wagon train, do you?”
“No, ma’am. I wouldn’t want anyone to know if I were in Lizzie’s place.”
“See, I knew you were smart, Sarah. Let’s eat now. I expect plenty of compliments,” Emma warned, then giggled at herself.
A few minutes later, Sarah said, “This is so good, ma’am. I am grateful to you for sharing with me.”
“I enjoy your company, Sarah. You’re welcome to come and eat anytime you wish.” It didn’t take them long to eat every last bite.
“I will wash up, ma’am. You cooked, and it is the least I can do to repay you for your kindness.”
Emma didn’t argue. “I love to cook, but I truly hate to do the dishes afterwards.” She continued to chat with Sarah, and permitted her to clean up.
When everything was neat and orderly, Sarah said, “I’d best be getting back, Mrs. Crabtree. Thank you again for a lovely meal.”
“You come by again, Sarah. I like you.”
Sarah was careful as she returned to Mr. Jacobs’ wagon. He was nowhere around, and she quickly slipped inside, thankful to have a place of safety to spend the night. She curled up in her hiding place, and with her tummy full, Sarah went to sleep.
PJ was confident he could do the job that Mr. Abernathy asked him to do. Tomorrow, the eldest Weston boy would take over driving his wagon. He was seventeen, and spent most of his time walking along beside or behind his parents’ wagon. He was the eldest of ten children, and most of his brothers and sisters also walked. Only the two youngest were privileged to ride. The only time Adam drove the family’s covered wagon was when his father went hunting for meat to feed all of them. PJ was sure the extra money Adam earned would help the family. Mr. Abernathy was paying Adam, so it was a good deal for PJ. There would be a lot of responsibility, but PJ was used to that. He could also take his meals with Mr. Abernathy and the others. After the meal was when they discussed issues concerning the wagon train, and PJ liked the idea that he would have some say in determining certain matters.
He decided to turn in, and went to the back of the wagon to get a blanket roll. He thought he heard something shift inside the wagon, but decided it could wait until morning to check it out. He was suddenly sleepy, and he made his bed under the wagon. Mr. Abernathy’s cook swore it was going to rain later that night, and he didn’t want to get soaked if it did.
Inside the wagon, Sarah was silently scolding herself. When Mr. Jacobs pulled back the covering over the rear of the wagon, she jumped awake, and nearly gave herself away. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice her, but she was going to need to be more careful or she would be discovered. Sarah had no idea what Mr. Jacobs would do if he discovered her, and she didn’t know what Mr. Abernathy would think of her for stowing aboard the covered wagon. A few minutes later, her heart was still pounding when she heard Mr. Jacobs snoring. Unlike her father’s snores, Mr. Jacobs’ snores were soft and somewhat comforting. She closed her eyes, listening to him snore, and she fell asleep again.
The next thing she heard was a man’s voice.
“What the hell are you doing in here?”