Southern Oregon Trail
It was a land of timber, challenge, and trepidation, forcing struggles beyond any she had known, and she’d known many in her sixty-six years. But Tabitha Moffat Brown decided at that moment with wind and snow as companions in this dread that she would not let the last entry in her memoir read “Cold. Starving. Separated.” Instead she inhaled, patted her horse’s neck. The snow was as cold as a Vermont lake and threatening to cover them nearly as deep while she decided. She’d come this far, lived this long, surely this wasn’t the end God intended.
Get John back up on his horse. If she couldn’t, they’d both perish.
The elderly man in his threadbare coat and faded vest sank to his knees. At least he hadn’t wandered off when he’d slid from his horse. His white hair lay wet and coiled at his neck beneath a rain-drenched hat. His shoulder bones stuck out like a scarecrow’s, sticks from lack of food and lost hope.
“You can’t stop, John. Not now. Not yet.” Wind whistled through the pines and her teeth chattered. “Captain!” She needed to sound harsh, but she nearly cried, his name stuck in the back of her throat. This good man, who these many months on the trail had become more than a brother-in-law, he had to live. He couldn’t die, not here, not now. “Captain! Get up. Save your ship.”
He looked up at her, eyes filled with recognition and resignation. “Go, Tabby. Save yourself.”
“Where would I go without you, John Brown? Fiddlesticks. You’re the captain. You can’t go down with your ship. I won’t allow it.”
“Ship?” His eyes took on a glaze. “But the barn is so warm. Can’t you smell the hay?”
Barn? Hay? Trees as high as heaven marked her view, shrubs thick and slowing as a nightmare clogged their path, and all she smelled was wet forest duff, starving horseflesh, and for the first time in her life that she could remember, fear.
Getting upset with him wouldn’t help. She wished she had her walking stick to poke at him. Her hands ached from cold despite her leather gloves. She could still feel the reins. That was good. What a pair they were: he, old and bent and hallucinating; she, old and lame and bordering on defeat. Her steadfast question, what do I control here, came upon her like an unspoken prayer. Love and do good. She must get him warm or he’d die.
With her skinny knees, she pushed her horse closer to where John slouched, all hope gone from him. Snow collected on his shoulders like moth-eaten epaulets. “John. Listen to me. Grab your cane. Pull yourself up. We’ll make camp. Over there, by that tree fall.” She pointed. “Come on now. Do it for the children. Do it for me.”
“Where are the children?” He stared up at her. “They’re here?”
She would have to slide off her horse and lead him to shelter herself. And if she failed, if her feet gave out, if she couldn’t bring him back from this tragic place with warmth and water and, yes, love, they’d both die and earn their wings in Oregon country. It was not what Tabitha Moffat Brown had in mind. And what she planned for, she could make happen. She always had . . . until now.
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Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling author of more than twenty-nine books, including A Light in the Wilderness and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have been finalists for the Christy Award, Spur Award, Oregon Book Award, and Reader’s Choice Award, and have won the WILLA Literary Award and Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Many of her titles have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. You can also read her work in more than fifty publications, including Decision and Daily Guideposts. Jane lives in Central Oregon with her husband, Jerry. Learn more at www.jkbooks.com.
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