(There has been a dreadful accident with one of the wagons in the Kettering company.)

It was a sad camp, on the banks of the Green, that evening, and for the several days following. We had bury Mr. Steitler, of course, and salvage what could be saved from his wagon. Two of his oxen had broken legs or their ribs stove in – they had to be dispatched and butchered on the spot, for the meat left on them. That would leave only a single yoke – bruised and very unhappy with their lot in life, but otherwise whole and fit to work. Mr. Herlihy came and talked to Pa, as Mr. Martindale and the other men took a hand with taking the heavier things from the wreck. Henry, white-faced and silent, was helping too, in a half-hearted way. He still looked stunned, disbelieving, as if he had been walloped over the head himself. He didn’t talk much, but as I didn’t know what I might say to him that would be comforting, that didn’t bother me.

“I can’t repair the wheels,” Mr. Herlihy said, regretfully. “The one is smashed to kindling, and the other is not much better. What I have in mind is to cut the wagon down to a cart – what can’t be carried in it … well, we can all pitch in, put some small things of yours in our wagons. What do you say to that, young Henry?”

Henry nodded wordlessly, his eyes fixed on the ground, and Mr. Herlihy continued, sounding if he were making himself sound cheerful. “It wouldn’t take more than a day or so – a good sound little cart! Two shakes of a lambs’ tail, I promise ye!”

Henry just nodded again, and Pa said. “We’ll look after you, lad – just as your father would have wanted. We’ll get to California, all in a company, I promise you that.”

Henry just nodded again. I felt so sorry for him again that my own throat hurt. Jon and I, with the Herlihy boys and Shiboone were combing the hillside below where the wagon had smashed, picking up small things that might have fallen from the wagon, or been thrown out. A barrel of flour had burst, and scattered the contents over the dirt – no, that was mostly ruined. I was collecting coffee beans one by one from a sack which had burst. Ma thought the coffee might be salvaged. Mrs. Herlihy and Shiboone were shaking dirt out of bedding, a bundle of which had rolled down the hill nearly to the water’s edge. Ma found Mr. Steitler’s flute, still fortunately in the padded case, under a sage bush, and Jon had already found Mr. Steitler’s sketchbook, the cover bent and some of the blank pages creased and dirtied.

Deacon Zollicoffer was going to preach the funeral sermon for burying his father. We would not be able to mark his grave. As Choctaw Joe confessed with deep regret,

“Them Injuns is powerful curious – they spot a place that looks like we cached something in the ground, they’re liable to dig it up, just to see if it was something valuable. Best just settle that poor man in the ground, and then pasture the critters there, so they trample up the ground real good. Now, boy,” he added to Henry. “I’ll make  note  of the bearings, and mark on a map of this place, ezactly where we planted your daddy. Someday, mebbe you can come back here, and mark it proper.”

Pa and Choctaw Joe found a level place, well above flood level of the river. Choctaw Joe took a sighting on a gnarled and weathered half-dead cottonwood tree, and allowed as that would mark the place as best as could be.

I thought that it would be a funeral like for Granny Elizabeth, or for little Cousin Matty – but observances  to bury Mr. Steitler wasn’t anything like that. It was all outside, on the hillside in the bright morning under a wide blue sky freckled with white clouds, birds singing, and the cottonwood leaves whispering secrets to each other in the breeze. The river was at our feet, white where the water rushed around the rocks, and there wasn’t anyone wearing black. Just our ordinary clothes. Deacon Zollicoffer stood up in front of us, his arms clasping his heavy old Bible, and he didn’t say any of the usual funeral words or preach a long service. Instead, he said that he was going to share some comfort from a saint back during medieval times, whom he said was called ‘The Venerable Bead” which brought such a funny picture to my mind that I nearly laughed out loud in spite of it being a funeral.

Deacon Zollicoffer stood there, by the open grave and Mr. Steitler’s coffin already in it. Deacon Zollicoffer held his Bible in his arms, the breeze blowing his white hair and the tails of his clawhammer coat this way and that. He spoke as if he was talking ordinary to us, not preaching from a great height like Grandfather Reverend.

“My dear brothers and sisters! We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them first to us – our dear ones! Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return to the shelter of your arms. Not as the world gives do you give! What you give to us, you do not take away. For what is yours is also ours. We are yours and life is eternal. Love is immortal and lasts forever! Death is only a horizon, and that is a horizon which is only limited by our own sight!” Deacon Zollicoffer paused for a long moment, and I was a bit relieved. I couldn’t see where a long oration would have helped Mr. Steitler, and in any case, everyone had other things to do than sit around listening to a long sermon. Deacon Zollicoffer was done, it seemed. He added, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we commend the body of our brother, Jacob Heinrich Steitler to the ground, but his soul returns to your tender and loving care. Amen!”

The Herlihys and Shiboone all made a sign of the cross at those words, and the German boys sang a gloomy hymn in their language. It sounded like they couldn’t recall most of the words of the last verses. Deacon Zollicoffer nodded – that was it; the signal for Pa and Choctaw Joe to begin filling in the grave. Henry stood by the side as they worked, still looking pole axed. Mr. Herlihy had managed to cobble together a coffin from the broken scraps of the Steitler wagon box, so at least there some decency involved. I was sorry for there not being a proper grave marker. How would anyone ever know where to leave flowers?

At twilight that evening, I saw Henry sitting there, under the half-dead cottonwood – just sitting and looking out to the west, where the sun was setting in a blaze of orange, gold and purple. I also saw Jon walking up to him – Jon had Mr. Steitler’s sketchbook that we had found in his little hand.

I was some little distance from them, so I couldn’t hear what, if anything that my brother said to Henry Steitler. But I could see that Henry took the notebook, reverently smoothing the pages, and smiling at Jon. They sat together, quietly and side by side for a long time, the bigger and the little one, a pair of indistinct shadows against the darkening sky, until Ma called them for supper.

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