A half a chapter from the latest work, the YA adventure now tentatively titled West Towards the Sunset.

As Ma predicted, the meeting was not done in twenty minutes. Ma looked impatiently toward the Clayton wagon, and the gathering of men around it, and said,

“Go fetch your father, Jon. I’m about to feed his share of dinner to Boomer.”

Jon went off at a run, as Ma finished filling Pa’s plate with cold biscuits and some slices of ham from our stores, and a scoop of apple crumble that Ma had made from dried apples the night before. I was hungry, impatient for sitting down and eating. But within a minute or two, Jon returned, breathless and tearful.

“Ma, Sally – come quick! They’re talking about shooting all the dogs!”

“Oh, my dear Lord!” Ma exclaimed. She flung off her apron; we had already lost any appetite for food, after hearing this.

“Pa wouldn’t let them shoot Boomer, would be?” Jon demanded tearfully and Ma replied,

“No more than he would let someone shoot one of you!” which seemed to comfort Jon at least a little, and he loved Boomer so very much. But I recollected how Major Clayton disliked dogs – and he was the captain of the company, and would Pa have any voice in a decision that the men of the wagon company had voted on?

It turned out that Pa had more voice than I had thought at first, as well as more respect among the men of the company generally. When Ma and Jon and I came running to where the men were at the meeting that Major Clayton had called – it had already gotten fractious and angry. Mr. Herlihy the Irish blacksmith was already shouting, so angry that his face was nearly as red as his hair and wiry beard, his powerful hands knotted into fists.

“God blast you for a treacherous, murdering salpeen!” He bellowed into Major Clayton’s face. “Murther me own dogs, you say! In hell you will be, before ye and your bully-boys harm a hair on the back of them!” And he went on, the Irish in him coming out so thick that we didn’t rightly understand more than one word in five.

“I will not stand for being addressed in this disrespectful manner!” Major Clayton shouted back, when Mr. Herlihy had run out of breath and before anyone else could get in a word by turning it to the thin side and wedging it in.

“Then you had better sit down for it!” Mr. Herlihy roared, and the shouting from all the men present burst out like the whistle from a steamboat. In the meantime, Mrs. Bishop, the poor invalid woman had her little spotted spaniel in her arms, hugged to her as she wept torrents and her husband had her arm around her, trying to talk reason and not being heard by anyone. We stood next to Mr. Steitler and Henry, at the edge of the crowd and Ma asked him what had happened to bring about all this ruckus.

“The lad’s dog,” Mr. Steitler replied. “Our commander of wagons has put it to a vote that all the dogs should be shot as a hazard to the company, since he blames the dog for panicking Herr Martindale’s cattle and breaking the wagon-tongue. All the dogs are a danger. Putting the wagon-train at the risk of harm, he says.”

“Surely the men have not approved this…” Ma replied, and Mr. Steitler shrugged.

“The majority voted so – that the dogs are a risk to all. I did not agree, but since I am a foreigner…”

This was appalling. We could not allow this, not Boomer. What would Pa do, now? Ma had said that Pa would as much countenance someone shooting Boomer as Jon or I … but this was the company, and we were out on the wagon trail, a week-long journey from where there was any settled law.

Meanwhile, Mr. Herlihy had taken a breath and resumed shouting at Major Clayton – and he had such a powerful bellow that he could be heard over the clamor.

“Before God, I swear I will leave the company and set off on me own, and what say ye to that, ye thrice-damned pismire! The de’il will make a ladder o’ your spine, afore ye murder my dogs!”

“You’ll be murdered yourself by the Indian savages before you get a day farther!” Major Clayton roared back, and suddenly, there was Pa, stepping up on the wheel of the Major’s wagon, where he could be seen above the heads of the men gathered. Pa put two fingers in his mouth and whistled – a shrill blast that cut through the babble, and such was Pa’s manner of resolute command, after the anger in Mr. Herlihy and the others, that there was a momentary silence – likely out of sheer surprise – into which Pa said, calmly,

“And I’ll take my own wagon and go with Herlihy, here. We voted to form a company, boys; we can vote to un-make it. Who’s with us, then?”

“I am!” That was Mr. Bishop, with his arm around his distraught wife, still weeping over the little spotted pup cradled in her arms. Mr. Bishop looked around, as if he was looking for support in his indignation. Three of the five German boys chorused,

“Ja! Ja – yes, we go mit Herr Kettering! Aber naturlich!” It seemed that they were indignant over their dog being blamed by the Major, in spite of doing all they could to help mend Mr. Martindale’s wagon to make up for it. Mr. Steitler also nodded, in vigorous agreement.

“Mir auch! We go, also mit Herr Kettering!”

At that, nearly a dozen other men called out their own dissent with Major Clayton’s captaincy; some had dogs, others had not, but I guess had been unhappy with how the Major exempted himself and his cronies from taking a turn at guard at night and for traveling on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The Major looked fit to be tied, almost white with rage at being defied.

“Then leave and be damned to you all!” He shouted – and some of those men and boys who had decided to break from his company jeered scornfully, calling him a tyrannical old windbag and other names that at the time I did not know the meaning of.

Pa, still perched above the crowd, put two fingers in his mouth and whistled again for attention.

“Lads – we’ll move on in ten minutes, all of those who want to leave with me.” He jumped down, and extended his hand to the Major, who refused it and glared. “No hard feelings, sir? We just can’t countenance your latest order. Best that we go our own way, then.”

Major Clayton looked as if he would spit on Pa. “You be damned, sir! You and all the rest of you vile, selfish ingrates!”

“I can not say that it has been a pure pleasure traveling with you,” Pa replied. He seemed unruffled, although Mr. Herlihy glowered, scowling as if he would like to strangle Major Clayton with his bare hands, once Major Clayton had taken a moment and untangled the real intent of what Pa had told him. “Good day to you, sir.” Pa looked past the Major, at the remaining crowd. “Any of the rest of you are welcome to join us and form a new company. Ten minutes, boys. We’ll roll out in ten minutes.”

And that was it – the breaking up of the company. There were eleven wagons following ours and the Herlihy’s two, away from that nooning place. Mr. Martindale and his family followed a little later, rejoining us that evening, at the place where Pa and Mr. Steitler decided to camp, as the sun slid down into the west that evening.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the snippet – I enjoyed it!

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