Beth Prescott sat on the plank seat behind people she barely knew, behind Clementine and Jacob May and watched the only home she had ever known disappear as the narrow road vanished like a piece of thread pulled tightly between the gentle swell of hills.
She felt the jolt of the rutted road cut through her back and settle in her stomach, where the baby moved with its usual tenacity.
She sat upright, hopeful that would help when another lurch pulled a small cry from her lips.
Clementine turned on the seat, her brown eyes concerned as she patted at her neck and the dark hair that was bunched there.
“Be careful, Jake,” she scolded, and Beth put a hand to her mouth even as bile rose in her throat. She didn’t want to bother them, to upset them when they had been so kind as to offer her a ride to Fort Kearney where her uncle would be waiting to collect her.
“I can’t make the road any straighter,” Jacob May said, his pleasant face scrunched up as though he were mad at Clem, although Beth knew such a thing was not possible. In the brief time she’d known the Mays, she’d never seen a sour word pass between them.
Which was why she had taken notice of them in the crowded wagon yard and followed them for the better part of a day before finally begging their pardon when Clem noticed she was alone and heavy with child.
The baby was not due for another month, Beth was certain. She remembered the night she had lain with her husband- the night he had held her down and hurt her and done things that made her want to get away from him.
` It had been a warm night, the crickets singing in the thickets outside their cabin when Marvin came home, drunk after having spent his evening in the tavern.
He had wanted her to kiss him, to hold him and put her arms around him.
They were married and he had a right to what he wanted.
Yes, she remembered the night this child had been conceived, had counted the hours and minutes and seconds until it would be released from her body and was grateful only because people took pity on her because of it.
“You must be sure to sit still,” Clem said. “Jake will make you a bed when we stop for lunch. I’ll put some blankets down and you’ll be quite comfortable.”
Beth thought about the others in their party, walking beside their wagons to lighten the load and knew she would be expected to do the same.
Jacob had only suggested they all ride for a spell so she wouldn’t feel like a burden, but his kindness would only last so long.
“I suppose I will,” she managed, thinking again of her home and Marvin and the people she had left behind.
She thought of Caroline, a girl she considered a friend who had gone to the schoolhouse with her before she left to help run her parents’ store.
She had an older brother, too, with eyes as brown as Clem’s, who watched over Caroline with a fierce protection that made Beth jealous.
There had been talk that they might marry. And he was not bad to look at with his wavy hair and big eyes that seemed to moon over every move she made.
But then Marvin had come, charming everyone with tales of his many travels and numerous prospects and that was the end of that.
Beth sat on the plank seat behind the strangers she had just met, wondering what would have happened had she married Caroline’s brother, knowing what the answer would be.
Another jolt of the wagon sent her tumbling to her knees and Clem turned quickly.
“Jacob!” she cried. “She had fallen- “
Beth cried out then, a strong pain in her abdomen and put her hands on her stomach, felt a dampness on her dress and between her legs.
“Clementine,” she whispered, her hands in front of her.
“Her water’s broke,” Clem cried out and Jake pulled on the reins, brought the two red oxen to a stop so quickly Beth fell backwards against a sack of meal.
She cried out again, knowing the labor could take her life.
Her mother had almost died bringing her into the world, had suffered just as much with her sister but Beth had hoped she would be spared, wondering now if this was punishment for what she had done to Marvin.
She heard other wagons going by, heard voices shouting to Jake about why they had stopped.
She slunk down in the box of the wagon, waiting while Jacob jumped from the seat and rolled the canvas down over the ribs of the frame.
She laid in the darkness after the canvas had been drawn down, waiting while the pain washed over her again and again, Clem’s face swimming before her as she held her...Continue Reading