Excerpt The Lady Train:
The next morning Cully was up early scouting ahead. He tested the next watering hole, checked for any activity in the area, signs of Indians or anything suspicious, then returned to the train. So far everything was going smoothly, but as they moved toward Ft. Kearney, he began to plot his country. He didn't want to take them through the deserts of Salt Lake, he feared too many complications, no, he'd turn off the Oregon Trail when he reached Ft. Hall. He made that decision himself.
When he returned, Abby had breakfast ready. The fat back and pancakes looked great and the coffee smelled wonderful.
She poured him a cup. "Well, how does it look up ahead?" She asked, as he settled against the chuck wagon to eat.
"It's a smooth ride right now, but not for long. A few days we'll be getting into rougher territory. Lots of wagons come through here every year and it makes it easier except in spots. I'm testing the water supply every day."
"Oh, why?" She asked innocently.
He stared into those dark, expressive eyes. "Cholera. You see, when people dump their waste too close to the rivers, it creates bad water and that means Cholera. With so many people moving west, that can be dangerous for any train. I like to avoid it as much as I can. So, if you could tell the women not to dumb their waste in the river, that would be appreciated."
"I will, of course. I had no idea."
He stared at her long and hard. "I don't think you have any idea what you are getting yourself into, either."
"What do you mean by that?" She huffed.
"I mean, a wagon train full of women going to marry men, site unseen, in a gold field of all places."
She firmed her lips, her agitation showing in the way her worry wrinkle creased her forehead. "Mr. Cully. I don't tell you how to run a wagon train, don't tell me who to marry."
He nodded, "Fine, can't say you haven't been warned, though."
"Warned of what?" She snapped, no longer hiding her anger.
"I don't know what you think you are getting into, but those men, in the gold fields are basically all the same. They live hard and die hard. They dig for gold, if they are lucky they might find a chunk, then they go play poker half the night and get drunk. When they go home they are as broke as the morning they woke up to. That's what I mean. I don't know what you expect, but it won't be no lace curtains and gold rings. They are dirty, drunks, and no as much about ladies as I do."
"I’m glad you added yourself in that group, because when I found you, you were nursing a huge hangover yourself. Which makes you no better. So how can you possibly judge them?"
"For one, I'm not looking for a wife." He said and walked off.
He'd been a bit blunt with her, but someone had to wake her up before it was too late. She was much too fine a woman to settle for something like he just described.
Anger spurred her, "Now that we have your opinions out of the way, can you tell me how it looks up fornt?"
He stopped in his tracks and went right up to her, close, so close he could smell the faint dropping of perfume. She was a handful of woman and he immediately backed off a bit. Gritting his teeth he looked down into her confused face. "Right now, there's plenty of water, plenty of animals for hunting, and smooth ride but that will change. I want to set up a shooting range for you women. See what you can do."
"When?" She looked surprised.
"Why?" she asked. "Are you expecting trouble?" Her voice held shock.
"A good wagon master always expects trouble. I just want to be ready, in case."
He stared at her, and he hated what looking at her did to him, because he realized the first day out that she was one fine looking young woman. He liked her spirit, he liked how she stood up to him. He liked her and that hadn't happened often with a real lady, he noted. The day she had come to ask his assistance, he hadn't been sober enough to get a good look, but now that he had, he realized she was a mighty temptation. She had the body of a woman, the face of an angel, and even her soft voice did something to his libido. Something he didn't want to go into. He had to put all that asie, he had a job to do.
She was a mail-order bride, he had to remember that.
"We'll be getting into Indian country before too long and I want to know what you all can do. I might want to employ a few more men when we get to Ft. Kearney?"
"Are the Indians hostile now?"
"There's been talk about it, yes. I won't know how bad the situation is until we are closer. Luckily there are forts scattered all along the way and that's good, but we could get caught in between too, I want us to be ready, if we do. Sometimes, they like to make an example out of a wagon train for the soldiers."
"I see. You aren't trying to scare me, are you Cully?" She stared at him now not backing away.
He wondered what she thought of him, he couldn't tell for sure. "Just making you aware of the dangers, is all. You seem to speak for all the women, you should know the dangers."
"No matter what you think of us, we aren't a bunch of helpless females. All of us have discussed the dangers of this trip. We come from hearty farms and ranches, we've worked hard all our lives. Digging in dirt that wouldn’t grow a potato let alone anything else. We hitch our own horses, see to the water, fix the meals, and walk when we have to."
"I'm sure you do."
"But you don't think we can shoot, do you?"
"I hesitate to think…."
She pulled out a revolver and shot a small limb off a tree.
He stood there with his mouth open. "Well, that's one out of fifty-seven women."
He could see the anger building on her face and how she paced the space between them. Better to keep her angry, than whimpering, he decided.
"Okay, I didn't level with you on how many there were, I'm sorry." She confessed, putting the revolver down on the chuck wagon makeshift table. "I apologize for that. And I get the distinct impression that you think we are all gold-diggers, is that correct?"
He eyed her now, trying to figure her out. Why would a beautiful young woman want to go to such a place for a husband? Money was the only answer he had.
"Have you all thought this through. I mean….do you know what you are getting into?"
"Does anyone know that for sure, Cully?" She asked meeting his gaze.
"Just trying to gauge why attractive, hard working women would want to jump into a lion's den."
"The gold fields, you mean?"
"That's part of it, yes."
She lifted her head, as though she knew this conversation would come. "Most of us have worked bone hard for our parent's farms and ranches, all our lives. Given no opportunity to find our own lives. Some of us were forced into engagements that only furthered that ambition. We wanted to pick and choose. And we will at the gold fields."
"And have you all picked?"
"No, we'll do that when we get there."
"Then you haven't chosen your husbands yet either."
"Then, what makes you think these men want wives? What makes you so sure you'll find a man that suits?"
Her expression changed, as though the question hadn't dawned on her. "You said yourself, we're handsome women, why wouldn't they want us? Besides, we have it on good authority that these men are anxious to meet us. According to the contract we signed, the men want women, and the contract reads, a marriage must take place first. I'm of the opinion we can pick who we like, but if not, then we either marry them or leave the way we came. It doesn't matter the outcome, we will all stay in California no matter what."
" You gonna dig for gold yourself?"
"If need be!" When she fumed, he almost laughed.
"Look," he came too close, but he wouldn't move away either. "These men, the ones in the gold field are either men who have chased dreams all their lives and are on their last leg, or their young dreamers who think they've found the rainbow. Granted, they work hard, and love hard, but they are dreamers. Most of them won't ever see a chunk of gold. And if they do, they'll lose it before they ever come home to the little wife, I can tell you that much. I've seen it for myself."
"You've no right to judge people you don't even know!" She stood almost nose to nose with him now.
He saw her breasts rise and fall rapidly, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. She was beautiful when she was angry.
Seeing what drew his interest, she backed away. "Mr. Cully."
"So," He edged closer, "Is that all you didn't level with me about?"
Slightly intimidated by his closeness she backed up a step. "Yes…I mean…. well…there is one other thing, I suppose I should mention."
He stood very close to her now, "And what might that be Miss Abigail?"
"We have a pregnant woman among us…." She made a slight face.
"Pregnant?" His brows went up in a huge frown.
"She didn't know she was, until we were on our way. She'd signed the agreement, there was no way we could leave her."
Cully couldn't help himself. "God Almighty?"
"We'll take care of her."
"You sure as hell will." He frowned at her now. Then he walked off. Opening and closing his fists at a mighty pace.
He ran into Johnnie and pulled him aside. Johnnie looked a bit miffed. "Something wrong, boss?"
"Did you know there was a pregnant woman with this train?"
Johnnie stared long and hard then nodded.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Cully scoffed.
"I figured Miss Abigail told you."
"Well…. she didn't, until now." He fumed. He glanced at Johnnie who was a bit cowed down now. "From now on, no more secrets between us. I need someone I can trust to tell me everything. It's the only way we can get there without too much trouble. Understand?" He stared at him hard. "I need to know I can rely on you for the truth and anything else that comes up."
"Yes sir." Johnnie nodded. "I had to size you up boss…."
"Well, have you sized me up, then?"
He studied him closely. "Yeah, I think I have. Despite your rough ways, you got the safety of all these women in mind. I like that about you. So, from now on, no more secrets."
"Sorry I yelled at you." Cully apologized, he needed a good repore with his men. "But I need men that I can trust and depend on. That means the three of you men. We're going to have some rough times, hard times, especially with nothing but women on this train. I've always gotten through, and this time will be no different. Now, you are either with me, or get out now."
"I'm with you." Johnnie straightened up. "I honestly thought she told you everything."
"Is there more?"
"The doctor is a drunk, was thrown out of town. The last wagon master thought we could use a man that knew medicine."
"Great. Glad you told me. And he was probably right about that. Cholera is prevalent on these trails. So is the pox and a dozen other medical problems. Accidents happen, and of course the pregnant lady will need him. One thing though, I'm putting you in charge of seeing he doesn't get drunk on this trail. I can't use a drunk with all these women."
Johnnie nodded, "Your right about that, too."
"The kid, does he know what he's doing?"
"Yeah, his father raised horses, so he's good with them, kind of a natural."
"Good to know."
"How does the trail look?" Johnnie asked.
"Right now, we have smooth trails, but it won't be long it won't be. I want us stocked with everything we'll need and lots of barrels because the California traill is usually hot, dry, and hazardous."
"Noted." Johnnie nodded.
After a moment, Cully stared, "How'd you get rooked into this drive?"
Johnnie snickered. "That gal, Rebecca, I got a look at her and I had to hook myself up with them. She's still determined to find a man in the gold fields, but I aim to talk her out of it."
"Well good luck with that. Don't let her side-track your attention though." Cully warned.
"No, I won't. I want to live too, boss." He smiled.
Cully smiled and nodded.
"How about you, why'd you decide to take us on?"
Cully shrugged. "She caught me with a sizable hangover and I needed the money and the work. I've been up the trial enough to know what to look for. But I said yes before I realized I was taking on so many women!" He frowned.
"They are good stock though. I can tell you that. They don't complain, and they take care of things, even when it's hard to do."
"That's good, because in the hard times, we'll need them to be strong. And there will be some hard times. There always are."
"Yeah, you are right about that." Johnnie nodded.
"You been out that way before?" Cully asked.
"No, came to Missouri with my family. They all died of the small pox though. Been on my own a few years."
"That's pretty rough."
"Yeah, it kind of toughened me up a bit." Johnnie admitted.
"Well, don't worry, when we got something to fret about, I'll tell you first. The main thing is, you gotta be my right arm, a man I can depend on no matter what."
"I'll do my best." Johnnie nodded.
"That's all I ask." Cully said and rode down the line of wagons.
After making sure all the wagons were rolling smoothly he came back to Johnnie. "I may hire a scout if I can find one worth his salt. One that speaks the Indian language and stuff."
"Might not be a bad idea." Johnnie agreed.
"For now, things are good, but we get into it, I need someone who knows the Indians better than me. So, keep your ears open at Ft. Kearney for one. Let me know."