As promised, I’m posting a snip from a novel I’m working on called From Where the Sun Now Stands. I’m trying my luck and skill with an historical story, set in the Northwest 1880s.
Lapwai, Idaho, 1884
Mud is what I remember the most. The moment my feet touched the sodden Idaho ground, an oozing, slick clay sucked at my shoes, until the heel of my boot sank into the muck. I pulled myself free but nearly fell over stepping around the puddles. Mud was everywhere, along with clouds of tiny insects and of course, the rain.
On our way up this dismal rutted track I’d ached for Robert, the young man who’d stolen my heart back home in Kansas. Already, I longed for his booming laugh, the way his eyes glittered when we exchanged glances. I was nearly seventeen—well old enough to pair off, even if Robert was presently only a barkeep. The two of us had plans—he’d open his own mercantile someday, I’d go to nursing school. Now everything was ruined. As the wagon driver set the brake, every inch of me seethed at Papa. I was just as furious with Mamma for not changing his mind. Idaho was beautiful but Kansas was still home.
The heathens, as I called them then, pressed around the wagon that June day, their curious black eyes shiny despite the drizzle. In this Presbyterian Mission Compound, the Nez Perce Indians did not frighten me in the least, but I doubt I could have climbed down without stepping on someone. I did not have to attempt it, for right then a tall, severe-looking woman dressed in black took charge.
The woman waved her arms about, shooing the group as she strode up to where I sat in the wagon. “Stand back, all of you,” she commanded, and all but one of the men and women obeyed, shrinking back like a gaggle of geese. One man, his black braids topped with a tall, three-feathered hat, stood his ground. The woman’s frown softened. “Enoch, see to it that Miss Clark’s belongings are taken to her quarters.”
The one she called Enoch nodded. Excited murmurs again rippled through the crowd. There were two McBeth sisters, Sue and Kate—that much I knew. By the end of that first week I was to learn not only which McBeth was which, but also which was the more amicable sister.
Later, Sue McBeth’s younger sister Kate would tell me it had been raining for ten days. By the time Enoch had shown me to my cabin, my skirts were damp up to my knees. He set my trunk on the stoop. I was shivering and, truth be told was still a bit feverish after my overland trip, but I wanted to thank him. “So kind of you,” I said, taking extra care to speak slowly, clearly for the uncivilized.
His eyes widened, but then he smiled. I found myself pulled into his gaze. Before I could say any more, he touched his hat brim and walked away. I stood for another few moments, hugging my own wet sleeves. “Curious people, the Nez Perce,” I muttered. “That one probably doesn’t speak a word of English.” Eager to be warm again, I dragged my trunk inside and shut the cabin door.
I’d never been so far from home. Already I missed Kansas and my family. I’d begged Mamma and Papa, but they’d been firm: I was to spend one year in the mission field in order to protect me from Robert, whose only sins were his vocation—Mamma believed in temperance—and that of his being caught kissing me in the parlor. I didn’t know it then, but Kate McBeth would be the closest thing to a friend I’d have in this wilderness.