Authors: Callie Hutton
Things went smoothly for the first few days. Davis and Emma fell into a routine. Joshua came by first thing in the morning to get Davis up and out of the wagon. While they were gone, Emma busied herself straightening up the wagon and cooking breakfast. After Joshua came back with Davis, he rounded up the oxen and got them yoked for the day. Following breakfast, Emma cleaned the dishes, re-packed the wagon, and they were off. Joshua stayed with them most of the day.
About a week after the accident, Emma came back from her jaunt to the bushes to find Davis slowly walking the oxen over to the wagon. He was obviously still in some pain, although the cuts, scrapes and bruises on his face had pretty much healed, leaving yellow marks where the black and blue ones had been.
“What are you doing?”she asked. “Who told you to get up?”
“Well, ma’am, I figured I’ve had enough of inactivity, so it’s time for me to pull my own weight. I can’t sit a horse yet, but I can do more than lie around. You just go ahead and finish packing up and I’ll get these animals ready for the day.” Davis winced as he spoke softly, but with determination in his voice. Emma shook her head when he paled as he tightened the reins, but decided not to confront him. If the fool wanted to be in pain that was up to him.
Emma started off the morning riding on the front seat of the wagon while Davis plodded alongside. The day was hot, but with cloud cover. As the hours went by, Emma found her gaze drifting toward Davis’s sweat-soaked shirt, the muscles rippling on his back as he handled the animals and trudged slow but steady. Taller and broader than Peter had been, her cohort’s dark hair curled over his collar, and he used the red checkered bandana around his neck to repeatedly wipe his face.
“Mr. Cooper,” Emma called, “I filled your canteen before we left, would you like a drink?”
Davis turned and smiled up at her. She felt as if the clouds parted and the sun came out. Again she felt a shiver when she looked into his unusual blue eyes. She tramped down any reaction to this man. Her husband was dead barely a week. Even though she and Peter had only known each other a total of seven months when he’d died, it didn’t sit well with her to be aware of Davis at all.
“Appreciate that, ma’am.”
Emma climbed into the wagon and retrieved the canteen. Hot and flushed herself, she took several sips before climbing out, then handed the container to Davis. “Here you are, Mr. Cooper.”
“Mrs. Thorpe, since we’ve been traveling together for a week now, do you suppose you can call me Davis?” He handed the canteen back to her and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Emma took it from his hand and held it in her lap.
“I’m not sure that would be proper, but I’ll consider it, Mr. Cooper.” She began fussing with her apron. “But I’m thinking that now you should come into the wagon and rest a bit. You’re looking tired and sore.” The fumbling with her apron grew stronger.
She’ll shred that entire apron before we reach Oregon.
“No, I’m doing fine. We’ll be stopping for the noon meal in a bit, and I’ll rest then.”
About a half hour later Ezra blew his bugle from his position at the head of the wagon train. The first vehicle rolled to a stop, with the rest following. Emma stretched, and rotated her neck muscles.
Despite his bravado, Davis winced every time he moved, and felt ready to drop where he stood.
“Mr. Cooper, I insist I walk with the animals this afternoon so you can rest.”
“I don’t need much rest,” Davis said, holding onto the side of the wagon.
“Nevertheless, I will be walking the animals this afternoon.” She glared at him, hands on her hips, chin thrust forward.
She made her way to the back of the wagon and gathered some things for the noon meal. Davis ambled to the front of the line and spent time talking to Ezra and the other scouts.
“Boy, you look like hell. Why are you up and about already?” Ezra peered at him through narrowed eyes.
Davis nodded. “I’m a tad sore, but I’m done lying in that woman’s wagon. She needs help and I aim to give it to her.”
“And how much help are you gonna be when you collapse and we have to drag your lifeless body away?”
“I’m fine. I’ll rest a bit this afternoon.”
Ezra shot a stream of tobacco juice at his feet, then shaking his head, strode away.
The noise increased as families enjoyed the break, easing sore muscles, and chomping down on cold meat and biscuits. Free at last from the confinement of the wagons, children ran around gleefully, shouting and calling to each other. The women made quick visits to the bushes, and the men checked over wagon wheels and animals. The cloud cover grew darker and thunder rolled in the distance.
Davis walked slowly back to Emma and edged his sore body down on a tree stump next to the wagon. She handed him a cloth wrapped over a biscuit, apple and cold bacon. She joined him on the ground and began to eat.
“Mrs. Thorpe, it’s not right for me to be sitting here with you on the ground. Get up, and sit here.” Davis said slowly moving himself.
“No, sir, not at all. You’ve been walking all morning, and I’ve been riding. I’m fine. You just go ahead and eat.”
This she said to the general direction of his throat. Davis grinned at her nervousness, but made no comment. Emma Thorpe was skittish as a baby colt around him. He wondered about her marriage to Peter, how well they’d known each other, and how long they’d been married. Emma had the look and manner of a woman not yet fully grown. Mommy and daddy’s little girl.
After wiping his mouth on the napkin, Davis pushed his hat back with his finger and leaned two forearms on his knees. “I’ve noticed I seem to make you nervous,” he said, staring straight ahead. “Do you think you have cause to be afraid of me?” He glanced over at Emma, but she kept busy smoothing her dress, messing with her bonnet ribbon, and folding the napkin. At least she wasn’t picking at that apron.
“No, not at all. Why would you think something like that?” She stood and began to brush her dress but a red blush crept up her neck and made a good effort to reach her hairline.
“Okay, if you say so.” Davis rose from the tree stump, his breath catching with the ache from his ribs. “I just want you to know I appreciate your kindness. I hope I can repay you by being a bit of a help now that I’m on my feet again. I don’t think I can ride my horse for a while; the ribs are still pretty sore. But the wrapping the doc did for me at least lets me get around. So if you have no objection, I’d like to take over some of your chores.” He stepped closer as he finished his speech. When Emma continued to be interested in her shoes, he gently put his knuckle under her chin and nudged her head so he could see her face.
Emma’s took in a sharp breath as her eyes met his. “Yes, Mr. Cooper, I would appreciate your help if you feel up to it.”
“What?” Emma gasped.
“Please call me Davis, Emma.” He continued to stare at her, his knuckle under her chin.
Her stomach muscles tightened. How could she feel flustered by this man? A recent widow, she’d been forced to endure his company. Yet the prickles that gathered at the back of her neck appeared related to his touch. She had loved Peter. Still loved him, she corrected.
“Emma, I’d like to talk to you.” The spell shattered when Sarah entered their wagon space.
Emma quickly moved away from Davis and regarded her visitor. “What is it?” Her voice squeaked.
“Are you all right?” Sarah asked, peering into her face.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just finding it a bit warm today.” She wiped her forehead with the napkins she still held in her hand, feeling a trail of crumbs smear her skin.
Glancing around, Sarah lowered her voice. “I thought you might want to know several women are starting to talk about you and Mr. Cooper.” Sarah looked uneasy as she shifted Stephen from one hip to the other.
Emma’s eyes grew wide. “There’s no
me and Mr. Cooper
, so I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Apparently a few got together and told Ezra it wasn’t right for Mr. Cooper and you to travel alone in your wagon.”
“Travel alone in my wagon?” Emma sputtered. “Mr. Cooper has been lying about for a week recovering from an accident. And in case these women forget, this situation was forced upon me. It wasn’t my idea.”
“What’s the matter, Emma?” Davis walked up behind the women.
Sarah glanced between Emma and Davis and shook her head. “Just some petty gossip, nothing to worry about.”
Davis studied her for a minute, then ambled away.
Sarah reached out to touch Emma’s arm. “I just wanted you to know which way the wind is blowing.”
“Okay, thanks.” Emma blew out a breath. “I appreciate it, Sarah.” She ruffled Stephen’s baby fine blond hair. How she would have loved a son of her own. But now that her courses had arrived, dashing her hopes one final time, that would probably never happen. She sighed and waved to Sarah as she left.
Slowly the front wagons began moving, so Emma quickly put the remainder of the meal things in the back of the wagon. Davis gingerly climbed up on the seat and worked the animals from there while Emma walked alongside the wagon.
Another week passed with a similar routine. Every day Davis grew stronger, and didn’t wince anymore. Emma worried he would be returning to scouting soon, and frankly confused why Ezra hadn’t demanded Davis resume his duties.
She found Davis to be good company. He didn’t talk much, but worked long and hard. Most evenings they sat together in front of the fire. Davis would roll a cigarette and blow smoke rings in the air. Sometimes he would share a little bit of his life before the wagon train. He spoke briefly about the fire that claimed his mother and sister. Sensing it was still a tender spot for him, she didn’t ask for more than he offered.
Emma shared details about her home in Indiana, and why she wanted to go back. Although Davis was sympathetic, he never missed an opportunity to suggest that returning to her parents was foolish.
“A woman grown goes where her husband decides.” He stirred the embers of the fire with a stick, sparks shooting into the inky sky. “Unless I’m mistaken, that’s part of the marriage ritual.”
Emma bristled. “Well I’m here, aren’t I? I did go where my husband wanted. And what good did it do me? And now why should I stay if my husband is dead?”
Davis dropped the stick, and leaned back against a tree trunk, crossing his arms. “It appears you have no choice right now but to stay.” He graced her with that now familiar lazy grin and butterflies took flight in her stomach.
Slowly the fire died out, and he crawled under the wagon. Emma retired to the wagon for the night, her mind in a whirl about her circumstances, and the annoying unwanted reaction her body had to that man.
About five o’clock the following evening after a long, tiring day, Ezra called a halt to the wagon train. Weary travelers climbed from wagons and off benches, stretching sore muscles and rubbing aching feet. The wagons formed a circle and the animals released. The air was a bit cooler here, and Emma noticed a lovely creek about a half a mile from where they were camped. The possibility of seeing to laundry and enjoying a bath immediately perked her up.
Elizabeth and Abigail hustled over, excitedly chattering about Ezra’s decision to stay over an extra day so the ladies could make good use of the creek.
Davis unhitched the oxen and moved them to the area set up for the animals. Emma went in search of Ezra to ask when the ladies could bathe. The thought of cool water rushing over her dusty, dirty skin had her happier than she had been in a long while.
“Howdy, Miz Thorpe.” Ezra tipped his hat. “You seem to be in a mighty hurry. What can I do for you?”
“Have arrangements been made yet for the ladies to receive some privacy so we can bathe?”
He laughed out loud. “Yeah, I guess y’all are anxious. Ladies sure set a store by bathing. Me, I can wait till we reach Oregon, although I think if I did nobody’d come near me.” He winked at this last. “The men will be gathering over by the animals in a little bit so the ladies and little ones can take their baths. I’d appreciate it if you could spread the word on the way back to your wagon.”
Emma agreed, anxious to be on her way, but stopped when Ezra called her back.
Hands on his hips, he stared into the distance, moving his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. “Ah, after you and Davis have had your supper and baths, I’d appreciate a bit of your time.”
She nodded, curious about this request, but nevertheless pushed it from her mind as she contemplated getting her sweet smelling soap from the wagon and being clean for the first time in weeks. She headed back, pausing at each wagon to inform the women about the bathing plans.
Feeling generous, she decided to grab some of Davis’s clothes and launder them along with her own. It was the least she could do for the man.
Darkness had fallen and the camp settled down for the night. Bats flew overhead in their nightly search for food, and the hum of quiet conversations from around dying campfires wafted in the air. Emma and Davis sipped on their coffee, relaxed and quiet after baths and a meal. Davis rolled a cigarette and leaned against a log. His legs stretched out in front of him, he’d pulled his hat low over his eyes.