by Joy V. Smith
Chapter 1: Starting Over
“I’m sorry, Miss Emerson, but with your uncle dead, you can’t travel with the train any longer. You’d best sell your livestock and wagons and go home and find yourself a man to take care of you.”
Lorrie Emerson attempted a smile. “Thank you for your concern, Captain Mead. I understand that you don’t want me tagging along. Good luck on the rest of your trip.”
The wagon master nodded and rode back to the wagon train, and Lorrie’s smile died as she considered her options. Returning home was not one of them. With her uncle’s help, she’d escaped from those other uncles and aunts who wanted to take her in and have custody of her and her inheritance. However, David Emerson was a lawyer and succeeded in extricating her from their attempts to corral her. They’d decided on heading west before that was a sure thing, and then they liked the idea so much, they sold everything they could and left Pennsylvania and headed for Independence, Missouri.
The Oregon Trail had been a magnet for settlers looking to obtain some of that fertile land in Oregon Country since the early 1840s. She hadn’t expected her uncle to be so enthusiastic, but as he told her, with all those settlers and all that land, a lawyer would come in handy. Now he was dead because of a thief who’d seen his bulging money belt and snuck into his wagon and killed him in the ensuing struggle. Her uncle was a stubborn man; of course he fought back.
She’d been relying on him for a long time. And she might have saved his life if she hadn’t hesitated. He’d taught her to use a gun, but she’d never killed anyone, and anyway, she hadn’t recognized the danger in time, so it was a wagon train guard who’d killed the thief. She’d retrieved the money belt before her uncle’s body was removed, and now it was fastened around her waist under her skirt; and God help the man who attempted to take it from her.
So, David Emerson was now buried back along the trail, and she hadn’t taken the time to cry yet. At least, she thought, Mead hadn’t dumped her until they got to this little settlement along the North Platte River. It‘d probably blow away in the next strong wind. She looked at the two wagons, hers now, along with the four oxen that pulled the big wagon and the two horses that pulled the smaller wagon. She needed help. Was a man the answer? Then she spotted the two boys playing Kick the Can under the shade of some trees near the river.
She gave a piercing whistle, and when they looked in her direction, she waved them over. She’d been afraid to leave the wagons and livestock untended, which had kept her from exploring and learning more about the town. The bigger boy sauntered casually over, followed closely by his companion. She saw now how ragged and filthy their clothes were. Not hampered by anyone who cared, she decided.
“Can you help me?” she asked the older boy.