Katie and the Mustang, Book 4

Table of Contents
 
 
PUFFIN BOOKS
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road,
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New Zealand
 
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by Dutton Children's
Books and Puffin Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004
 
 
Copyright © Kathleen Duey, 2004
All rights reserved
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
eISBN : 978-1-101-17675-7
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

My childhood memories are set to hoofbeats:
a fog-softened gallop on a lonely morning; the joyous
clatter of friends pounding down the Canal Road;
a measured, hollow clop of a miles-to-go July afternoon;
the snow-muffled hoofbeats of wintertime; the squelching
rhythm of a close race with a rainstorm. These books
are for my dear friends, the horses of my childhood—
Buck, Ginger, Steve, and Cherokee Star.
 
Thank you all.
CHAPTER ONE
The little one walks beside me every day. Her soft feet
make almost no sound in the dust. We have passed through
good grass into badlands. The scent of sage is stronger
every day. When will we see the mountains?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
W
e stayed at Fort Laramie three days.The McMahons were fussing with a sore-hoofed ox, Andrew Kyler had a broken water barrel, wheel rims were loose—the troubles went on and on.
Mrs. Kyler and I spent two days washing every single-bingle piece of clothing in the wagon, cleaning the dirt and bugs out of the jockey box, sharpening knives, rearranging the tangled mess of her belongings, beating the dust from the feather bed, her blankets, and the quilts. I washed my blanket in the Laramie River, leaning out over the water with Mrs. Kyler holding my ankles so I wouldn't fall in. We did all the things we hadn't had time or strength to do while we were traveling. I reread two stories from my mother's book in the evenings.
Mrs. Kyler had hoped to buy a few things at the post store, but the prices were too steep—ten to twenty times more than the cost of the same goods back in the other towns we'd passed through. She had hoped to sell a few of her extra things, as well, but the post trader wasn't buying anything from anyone. People with overloaded wagons had only had one option left. Weight was killing the oxen.
I heard the Craggetts arguing over leaving behind a caned rocking chair that had belonged to her grandmother. Their oxen were wearing thin already—Mrs. Craggett had packed all her household treasures. I wondered about Mrs. Stevens. There was no way to know if she and Mr. Stevens were behind us on the trail or ahead of us—or if they had decided to turn back long ago. Had they found a big party to travel with? Had Mrs. Stevens tried to bring all her things?
The guide we thought about joining turned out to be a man of hard opinions, determined to take a wagon cutoff he'd heard about from a friend of a friend of his. He said it was brand-spankin' new, just discovered, and that it'd cut a hundred miles off the journey.
Not even Mr. Silas thought that was a grand idea, chasing down some route the guide himself didn't know. So Mr. Kyler thanked him and sent him back to the party he was leading.
New wagon parties arrived once or twice a day while we were at Fort Laramie. Most were Mormon folks. Some barely stopped. Others circled their wagons and camped as we had. When I walked the Mustang out to graze, I saw people standing beside their wagons in the mornings, stretching and talking, enjoying a morning without the constant hurry to keep moving.
On the afternoon we left, we could see wagons lined up before us on the trail, like beads on a necklace. Looking back brought the same view. The menfolk stopped arguing about getting a guide. From here on, at least until Fort Bridger, there would be help in sight in any direction and no doubt at all about where the best route lay.
“There are only fourteen of us,” Mrs. Kyler said to me that afternoon. She was walking behind the wagon as she did sometimes to stretch and get away from the endless jolting of the wooden wheels.
I looked up at her and nodded. She ticked the names off on her fingers. “Six wagons full of us Kylers, then one for Mr. Silas and his partners, one each for the Craggetts, the Heldons…”
And as she went on down the list, I thought about the odd combination of people who had decided to go on together. Starting at the front of the wagon line, there were six Kyler wagons with me walking somewhere alongside, ranging wide to find grass for the Mustang whenever I could. Andrew came behind, usually, herding his stock. Julia, Polly, Hope, and the younger Kyler girls usually walked together behind one of the Kylers' wagons.
Then there was Mr. Silas and his three partners, bearded, rough-spoken, and private. They pretty much kept to their own campfire at night, talking in low voices about business and cattle and the war in Mexico and who knew what all else. I listened to them when I could, but if they noticed me grazing the Mustang nearby, they'd wave me off.
There were our mileage keepers—the Taylor family—with their four children, their pale daughter Mary riding inside the wagon, often lying down, the rest walking. I felt so sorry for Mary. She smiled at me when she saw me, gentle as spring rain. I always smiled and waved back, but I never really talked to her much. I wish I had.
The McMahons were next—big, comfortable folks with a funny and adorable little son named Toby. I loved the way they talked about everything, the way Mr. McMahon always let his wife speak her mind. Then came the Craggetts. Mrs. Craggett was so proper that I knew she would hate Liddy McKenna forever for being different from most women she knew, no matter how many times Liddy and her big draft mare pulled a wagon out of deep sand or offered some other neighborly help.
Then came the Heldons—Grover and his parents. I hated Mr. Heldon for the bruises on Grover's face. And I was afraid of Grover, because he was the meanest boy I had ever known. I wished, more than once, that they would find another wagon party to travel with, but they stayed with us.
Miss Liddy McKenna's three wagons came last. She drove one, a Negro man drove the second, and an odd-looking man with big hands and feet drove the last one. There was a third man with blond hair pulled back in rawhide tie like a trapper. I had noticed the Negro man limping at Fort Laramie. I didn't know how he had gotten hurt, and I hadn't heard anyone else talking about it, either.
People acted like the circus folks weren't there, bringing up the rear, camping separately—unless help was needed. Except for Miss Liddy McKenna, I didn't know their names. I wasn't sure anyone did. They'd been around fever deaths before they'd joined us, and no one wanted to associate with them, but no one had objected too much. It was a comfort to have three more wagons, even if they weren't proper, covered wagons and carried loads of circus-show costumes and cracked corn for their fancy horses instead of farm tools and quilts.
Mrs. Kyler had fallen silent when I looked up from my thoughts. She was watching me.
I smiled. “I was just thinking about everyone.” I made a wide gesture with one hand.
“It's an interesting batch, all right.” She smiled. “I admire that Miss Liddy, but don't tell my husband that.” She lowered her voice. “Women can do lots more than most men like to admit.”
“I keep hoping they'll decide to give us their show,” Mrs. Kyler said.
I smiled at her. “I would love that!”
She nodded. “We all would, I think. I wondered why they didn't offer to back at the fort. There would have been quite a crowd. Maybe because Mr. Le Croix twisted his ankle.”
“Mr. Le Croix?” I echoed.
“Mr. Pierre Le Croix. He said it rhymes with ‘the boy.' Le Croix! He came here from France,” Mrs. Kyler said. “I didn't know there were Negroes in France.” She smiled. “Of course I can't think of anything I do know about France except that they gave old Ben Franklin enough money for troops and food so we could win our revolution.”
I stared at her. “Mr. Le Croix,” I said, as much to myself as to Mrs. Kyler. “Do you know the other two men's names?”
She nodded. “Miss Liddy got to talking to Andrew about horses one day at the fort. I was close by, so I asked. The blond-haired man is Mr. Jacob Swann, and the tall man is James Dillard.”
I sighed. Miss Liddy and I had only spoken the one time, when she asked about the Mustang, and had said she was an orphan, too. I wanted to talk to her. But truth was, it scared me to be around her, to be around any of them. Fever terrified me. I couldn't think about it without remembering my family, how fast they had gotten terribly sick, how quickly they had been gone.
“Are you all right?” Mrs. Kyler asked me again.
I nodded.
“Thinking about your family?”
I glanced up. I had never talked to anyone about losing my family except Hiram a little—and the Mustang. I couldn't see that it would do any good to share my troubles with Mrs. Kyler. She had enough of her own. So I shook my head. She reached out and patted my arm.
All that first week out of Fort Laramie, we had parties of Mormon folks close behind and before us. I saw the men pushing the harness bars of their odd little horseless carts day after day. I was amazed to imagine their weariness and suffering; watching them ford the Platte River worried me, but all made it safely, as did we. There was a makeshift ferry but the water was low and we didn't use it.

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