Third November, 1843… “With a heavy heart and much trepidation, I am resov’d to leave this place, and remove to California, first for the sake of my Dearest Darling….”
Under a pool of golden lamplight in the silent bedroom, John Townsend carefully uncorked the bottle of ink in his portable writing desk, balanced across his knees, and wrote in his tiny, careful hand:
“I fear for her health above all else. She has a delicate constitution, and cannot bear another cold winter, or disease-wracked summer such as this last without permanent impairment. Moses has been all talk this year past about the marvels of fabled California and its wonderfully mild and temperate climate. He is impatient for emigration and adventure and swears hourly to embark in company with Allan and Sarah M. I think it is the talk of impetuous youth but he is of that age to venture upon such bold enterprise. Of late though, I have begun to believe that such transportation may be my Dearest Darling’s only hope of recovery to full health. In any case, she would not bear the thought of Moses’ attempting such a perilous journey himself and would fret herself into an early grave…” John crossed out the last three words, and wrote in “a decline…”
On the bedside table, a full kettle simmered over a burning spirit lamp. Steam hissed from the spout. John set aside the writing desk. A heavy blanket was tented over the head of the bedstead, and the head and shoulders of the woman sleeping fitfully underneath, a basin of water settled onto a pillow close to her head, a basin in which floated a few drops of camphor oil, their efficacy nearly spent with the cooling of the water. John emptied the basin into the slops jar, and filled it again with steaming water, and a fresh installment of camphor droplets.
John regarded her face, glistening with moisture and still flushed pink with the remnants of fever, or maybe the heat of healing steam under the blanket tent that lent a spurious look of health to Elizabeth’s face. Her blond hair and the neck of her high-buttoned nightgown were soaked with the sweat of a broken fever. He bent an ear towards her breathing; easy, without the gasp and wheeze that frightened him down to his soul with the threat, that her weak chest and frail constitution might take his Elizabeth away from him and leave him alone in this world.
He put back the blanket over his wife’s face, and the newly-steaming bowl of water, and caught a glimpse of himself in the dressing-table mirror; a broad-shouldered man with a merry, and bluntly pugnacious face. His neck-cloth was loosened, and the fine broadcloth coat that his Elizabeth insisted that he always wear, being that he was a doctor, and had a position to keep up, set aside. His hair also stuck up in rebellious points and curls; he had run his hands through it too often during this latest crisis. Someone tapped cautiously on the bedroom door and after a moment, opened it just wide enough to look around.
“Mose, boy, you should be in bed. It’s past two in the morning,” John chided his brother in law. Young Moses hesitated in the doorway, a gawky boy of seventeen not quite grown to his own strength, young enough to look heartbreakingly like his older sister with the same oval features and fair coloring.
“You’re still awake, Doctor John,” Moses said, trying so hard to sound gruff and manly “Is she better?”
“She’s sleeping easily; I think the crisis is past. I sent Mrs. Montgomery off to her own home hours since. ”
John often had to speak comfortable and reassuring words to frightened relatives; sometimes they were the words that they wanted to hear and sometimes as it was now, the plain truth. John was glad of that for Moses’ sake. Not only was his Elizabeth a dear sister but next thing to a mother to Moses, since their parents had died ten years ago in one of the fever epidemics that swept Stark County, in Ohio.
They were but newly married then, but the best established of all the Schallenberger’s children, and so Moses was left to them, a boy of six years and all but a flesh and blood son to John. Sometimes, he reflected without grief or resentment, that Moses was the best that he would have wished from any child that Elizabeth might have born to him. She had brought him a son without the agony and risk that childbirth for her would entail, and Moses was a good lad, straight and fearless and honest. John was well-content with his family; or would be if Elizabeth could only be well again, fit and rosy-cheeked, and riding a fine horse as recklessly as she once used to do.
“Until next time,” Moses stepped a little into the bedroom, and looked at John, eye to eye. “This miasma, these epidemics of fever; Mr. Marsh writes about the climate in California, being bountifully temperate and healthy. If we could but remove her from them…”
“I know, Moses. I read the same letters, and hear the same idle talk.” John kept his voice low, and rubbed his forehead. His eyes felt like they were full of sand. “But it is a long, dangerous journey, and to a foreign country, at that.”
“For now,” replied Moses. “So was Texas, once. Allen talks of nothing else, than the riches there to be had, should it fall into our hands, too.”
“It is not in our hands yet, no matter how loudly Allen Montgomery boasts of it. And it is still a wild and savage place…” a jaw-cracking yawn sent John’s thoughts in all directions,
“Sorry, Moses. I have not slept above twenty minutes, these last two days. I know you are resolved on this adventure, but you are a young man with no responsibilities, no household to think on. I have both… I must consider carefully how to best meet them. And your sister must be considered, also.” Another huge yawn felt as if it would split John’s face in two.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning. Well, ‘tis morning. Then after I have slept.” He clapped Moses affectionately on the shoulder. “Go to your bed, lad. You must be as much in need of rest as I.”
“Good night, then, Doctor John,” Moses slipped away, drawing the door softly closed behind him. John yawned again. For the last three days, and two nights, he had slept, if he slept at all, nearly upright in the bedroom arm-chair. The armchair, cushioned with a flattened and grimy pillow and a single blanket, beckoned to him as an old friend but under the camphor-steam saturated blanket, Elizabeth stirred fitfully. In the silent house, in that sickroom, that bare movement and her thready whisper sounded as loudly as a shout.
He lifted up the blanket; in the dim pool of lantern-light, her pupils were huge and dark. He took her hand in his own.
“I’m here, Dearest Liz.”
She looked at him with a queer, fey expression, as if she were talking in her sleep, and whispered, her fever-cracked lips barely moving.
“We can’t let Moses go alone,” And then her eyelids fluttered closed, and her hand slackened in his. She slept again as if exhausted by that slight effort. John sat back in his chair and after a moment’s thought, opened the writing desk again. He uncorked the tiny inkbottle, and wrote;
“I do not think of myself as a gambler, but perhaps I am so, to think of selling my house and practice, and to risk our lives and fortune on this venture, not for such earthly riches as such men do covet, but as a means that my Dearest Darling may recover her health and strength.”
Angeline Morrison Letter #1
Writ from St. Joseph
I write imploring an answer from you with great speed, as My Dear Husband has resolved upon departing from our dwelling here, and embarking upon the trail for distant California in the spring. His friend, Allan Montgomery has long been preparing his own household for transportation hither; My Dearest tells me that he (Mr. Montgomery) has spent most of the year previous preparing necessary gear and supplies, and is most impatient for the trail season to open. Mrs. Montgomery, who lived in our household since the sad loss of her parents and was only recently engaged in marriage, is exceeding downcast by his plans.
As for myself, I am apprehensive but unlike my dear Sarah, I have the wit to keep them to myself. Indeed, my Dearest’s stated reason for transportation to California is that he fears for my health, so it would be most ungracious of me- as well as casting aspersions upon his knowledge of medicine – to object. I cannot deny that I have unwell for most of the last four years; it is most vexing for me to never be completely recovered from one ailment before falling to the next. To my Dearest, it is doubly so when none of his skills can keep the malignant vapors of summer or the bitter cold of winter from affecting me so deeply.
But, Angeline, although his concern is real, I suspect it is but a pretext for indulging the restless spirit that has moved him ever on, from where he was born, to Ohio and on to Missouri Territory. When he first came to Stark County to practice medicine, it seem’d most astonishing that he had lived in so many places before. And it almost seemed natural that upon the deaths of my beloved parents and assuming the care of my brother, that we would of course uproot ourselves and move to St. Joseph. There were many doctors practicing there, and it seemed the most natural distraction from the deaths of my dear mother and father, that we should seek solace in new horizons!
I had thought we were most content in St. Joseph, but of late he has seem’d restless, and uninterested in civic matters that once were his most lively interest. The question of the peculiar institution also vexes him much, although he dislikes to speak of it, for he fears alienating friends and associates who do not share his feelings and dreads a time when he might have to voice them openly on the matter. Such a tangle… and I had thought my own poor condition was the cause, but now I suspect otherwise.
I shall write to you once more, before we depart onto the trail. Please write to me and tell me of the trivial doings, and little domesticities that I will soon leave behind.
Ever thy friend
From Dr. Townsend’s diary: “Twenty-sixth of February, 1844: Items for the wagon, purchased from local merchants of excellent repute, represented by them to be of superior quality and sufficient for the journey: plain flour, eight hundred pounds. Salt bacon, six hundred pounds. Coffee, fifty pounds. Tea, twenty pounds. Sugar, eighty pounds. Salt, forty pounds. One barrel hard tack. Cask vinegar. Two boxes dried apples, the same of apricots. Two crocks pickles. One hundred pounds rice, the same of dried beans. Small box salt cod. Fifteen small jars of honey and preserves. Two bottles medicinal whisky….”
“I have had our wagon fitted out, at some small expense, to make it more commodious and comfortable. A false floor is installed, some eighteen inches above the wagon bed, below which certain stores and gear may be stowed out of the way. Three large flat-topped trunks are arranged at the rear, with a heavy mattress on top, which serves as a most comfortable bed. We have also attached a seat on metal springs to the front, which may afford a more comfortable ride, and sealed the canvas cover against rain with a generous coating of linseed oil. Mr. Montgomery has made similar arrangements in his own wagon…
Item - purchased for the journey, one canvas tent, and a set of tin plates and such for use on the trail…
I made the purchase of some fine china silk fabric, with an eye towards selling it in California at a profit.”
“Fifth of March, 1844: Arranged the hire of a drover, one Francis Deland, who journeyed hence from French Canada and is desirous of working his passage to California for board and bread. We intend to depart a week from today, having reciev’d notice of a large assembly at Kanesville, up-river in the Iowa Territory, intent on Oregon, our intention being to accompany them as far as Ft. Hall.”
“Eleventh of March, 1844… we depart upon the morrow, Elizabeth and Moses and I, in company with our close friends, Allan and Sarah Montgomery. May good fortune guide us, and our Heavenly Father attend and bless our endeavors. It is so written: ‘For the Lord Thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water. Of fountains and depths that spring out of the valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness; thou shalt not lack anything in it.’”
In the early dark, just as the pale dawn lightened the sky, the oxen stamped restlessly, and blew out their hay-scented breath, and Allen Montgomery hardly bothered to lower his voice,
“Good lord, what’s keeping the woman? Fix your bonnet and come away, your ladyship. Time’s a-wasting. We should be on the road to Kanesville by now.” John bent his head over his saddle girth, pretending to check the adjustment of his stirrups and tactfully affected not to hear but out of the corner of his eye could see the embarrassment on Moses’ face. Moses was no-doubt coloring up like a girl. He admired Allen enormously, and tried to copy his manner; a thing of which John did not wholly approve, although he wisely kept from saying so. John also liked Allen, even if he was the most hot-headed and tactless man in three counties. Francis, hunkered patiently down on his heels next to the lead ox gave no indication of impatience, or even of having understood.
His pretty and feisty wife, little Sarah Armstrong she had been, orphaned at fifteen and come to work for John and Elizabeth until she had married the handsome gunsmith, snapped
“She’s saying goodbye to the house. House… you know, that place which women keep, until their husbands drag them away?”
John strenuously pretended not to have heard that, either. Just as well that the two of them were well-matched in being about equally tactless.
He himself had sold the house and practice, furniture and fittings, everything that could not be packed in straw, or stuffed into a trunk in the wagon. Which aside from some bits and pieces, amounted to a case of surgical implements, his books and Masonic regalia and the set of china that Elizabeth had inherited from her great-grandmother and an assortment of trinkets, bedding, linens and clothing.
Everything else that had adorned their home, everything dear and familiar, from the pictures on the wall and the inlaid bedroom furniture, to the parlor piano that had given his Elizabeth so much joy, and pride in showing off their home to her friends, all to be left behind, all now someone else’s property. Oddly enough, it gave him a feeling of curious relief, a feeling of freedom, of being able to float unbound by material possessions, like that of the early monks, with their attention focused on the divine.
A few hesitant piano notes floated out from the empty house, a stave of Mozart, clear and pure as a trickle of spring water. Allen swore under his breath, and gave some vent to his exasperation by slapping his hat against his knee.
“I’ll go and fetch…” Moses ventured, miserably embarrassed, just as Elizabeth appeared in the doorway, like a ghost in a dark stuff travel dress. She tied her bonnet strings neatly under her bravely lifted chin, and pulled the door gently closed.
“I’m ready,” she said, simply, and took John’s hand. Moses reached down from the wagon-seat, and between the two of them they boosted her up and over the great wooden wheel—one foot on a spoke, the other to the footrest, before she scrambled over the side of the wagon-box in a flurry of skirts and calico petticoats, to seat herself next to her brother, her hands folded on her lap. She nodded to him when she was settled, and he swung up into the saddle; John’s horse pranced sideways a little, tossing his ugly grey head until the bit jingled.
John swore, under his breath. He regretted selling the trusty old gelding, Pouncer, who had faithfully carried him or drawn his trap around his medical rounds in St. Joseph, and before that in Stark County, for the best part of a decade. Pouncer had faultless manners, gentle enough for Liz to ride, even. But John had quietly listened to the counsel of outfitters and merchants who dealt in trade with the yearly caravans to Santa Fe, and understood immediately that Pouncer was too old, and unsuited to a rugged journey through wilderness. He would need something young, strong, and spirited, and the new grey gelding was all that, but John hadn’t warmed sufficiently to give it a name or think of it as anything but “the Ugly Grey”. He disciplined Ugly Grey, and waved his hat in the air.
Allen cracked his whip, and whistled shrilly to his team, and they leaned stolidly into their yokes. Francis stood up without any apparent urgency, and seemed to whisper to the lead team beasts… then he whistled too, a low whistle, and all three yoke hitched to the Townsend wagon stepped forward, almost eagerly. With a great creak and groan, the wagon lurched forward, the linseed-proofed canvas cover swaying like a bellied sail. John reined in Ugly Grey, who seemed determined to prance like a racehorse and gaily called up to his wife, who looked ahead with somber mien.
“The greatest journey starts with a single step, Dearest Liz… and I vow that we have just taken that step!”
That, as he hoped, coaxed a smile, and she called back,
“’Tis a very… jolting step, Dearest… can I hope to become more accustomed to it?” She was, John noticed with approval, not looking back. Brave Liz.
“If not,” he promised expansively, “I shall buy you a horse to ride, before we depart from Kanesville. I had planned on purchasing another horse, and two more yoke, depending on how the rules of our party with respect to a herd of spare beasts are decided.”
“Why would that be?” Elizabeth reached up and straightened her bonnet, as a particularly deep rut jarred the whole wagon again, “Wouldn’t we wish to take as many extra animals as we can afford?”
“Then we have the extra burden of herding them along behind, and finding extra food. It might be worth the extra effort, or it might not be. We should have another horse, regardless. Mr. Chiles ever spoke of being able to hunt, along the trail.”
Ugly Grey pranced ahead, giving John the opportunity of taking a good look at his three yoke, considered so carefully before purchase for strength and docility, working together under the burden of moving a heavy-laden wagon. They moved well under Francis’s direction, he thought; they merely walked, easily pulling their burden without any special effort. He rode ahead of Francis, striding next to the lead yoke, and the Frenchman caught his eye and gave a smile and a mock-salute, tipping his hat-brim with the stock of the whip that he seemed to hardly use.
A good man, that; John could forgive practically anything of a man who was good with animals, who ruled them with a light hand. He had doctored animals in his time, as any medical man must, when a man’s livelihood might depend on the health of his horse or cow, as much as on his own.
Ahead of them, Montgomery’s team plodded stolidly on, around the long gentle bend in the road that paralleled the river, north and west of town, the crate of chickens lashed to the back of it bouncing to every jolt of wheels, accompanied by noisy complaints and flurries of chicken feathers. Allen’s single horse and milk cow were tethered on long leads, side by side to the back of his wagon.
They would soon be out of the township, out among strangers who knew them not, floating as free as bubbles on the river, having cut the connection that bound them to a farm, a place, a town; bubbles on the river-surface, joining with other bubbles, and drifting purposefully west. John reined Ugly Grey back again, and fell in beside his wagon, and smiled at Liz:
“I wonder how long Mrs. Montgomery will preserve her chickens on the trail… they do not seem in a humor conducive to laying eggs.”
“Chickens are adaptable,” Elizabeth replied, with a ghost of her old spirit,” They will provide eggs, or a good chicken dinner, one or the other. Sarah… Mrs. Montgomery did not consent to this… expedition in the same spirit that I did, my Dear Doctor. She cannot forget how her family was dragged hither and thither, how her mother protested and her father insisted, and they moved on from one home to another, until they both perished and she was left in our care… and then out of her marriage to Mr. Montgomery, had her very own little house… but on Mr. Montgomery’s insistence, she must leave it. And I fear that perhaps we did not serve her truly as friends, with her true interests at heart when we encouraged her to accept Mr. Montgomery’s offer of marriage.”
“He’s a good man, with a good trade, and a handsome devil to boot,” John said, “A man like that must have a wife, and she was lucky to make such a fine match.”
“Oh, certainly,” Elizabeth replied, with a strained smile, “But a woman can be fortunate in her marriage, and yet not be wholly happy in it.”
“Are we happy, Liz?” Impulsively, John stood in his stirrups, and reached out to take her gloved hand in his, over the turning and mud-caked wheel. “Are we truly happy, to the end of this trail and all the world encompassed in it?”
“We are,” Elizabeth half rose, leaning down to briefly grasp his hand and the wagon rolled over another rut, and she sat down heavily—which knocked her bonnet askew once more.
“I am happy, and you are my husband. Where you go, I go also… and so must Sarah Montgomery with her husband. But she is too high-spirited to submit gracefully when she must, and too young in marriage to know how to appeal to his good nature and change his mind.”
“I cannot imagine anything to make Allen change his mind, once he is set on it,” Moses spoke up sturdily, “Not even Sarah, and I look on her as fondly as another sister. But wives are not supposed to question their husbands,” and he looked abashed and puzzled when John and Elizabeth exchanged a wry look and burst out laughing.
And the sun rose at their backs, brushing the newly green treetops with a touch of gold, and sending elongated shadows of team and wagons, horse and rider running ahead of them, stretching out towards the west.
From E.S. Patterson Interview, University of California Local History Archival Project 1932:
“My name is Edward Sidney Patterson, and I was born near Batavia, Clermont County Ohio, in September of 1837, to Samuel Laurens Patterson, and Isabella Hitchcock Patterson. Which would make me 95 and old enough to know better, you would think. I had three older brothers and an older sister, when my father decided that we should go west to seek a better fortune for us in California. He left in the spring of 1841 to go out in advance of the family.
He sent back a letter to us, which we did not receive until mid-summer of 1843, to let us know that he had arrived safely and that my mother should sell the farm and all the fittings and prepare to follow him. In fall of the year that he had departed Ohio, my mother had given birth to my little sister, Sarabeth, whom we called Sadie, and her own father, whom we called “Paw-Paw” had come to live with us.
Paw-Paw had been in the fur trade as a young man and we were given to understand that he had traveled extensively in the west. In fact, Paw-Paw had had fixed it for Pa to travel out to California through connections and friendships which he had among the Santa Fe traders. Ma was not pleased about this development: she thought he was of a light character, and was deeply unhappy about this whole prospect.
But in obedience to my father, she sold the farm, and accepted Paw-Paw’s advice about a wagon and necessary supplies. She and Paw-Paw knew through friends, that there was a party of emigrants assembling in the spring of the following year at Kanesville, in the Iowa Territory, intending for Oregon and California, and so we made preparations to join them. She took some small things that she treasured, and fitted out a stout farm wagon that Paw-Paw approved of with a canvas cover. She had four yoke of oxen, and a milk cow from the farm.
She bought sufficient supplies for the journey out of what she had for selling the home place, and took us to Iowa to take the trail to California in obedience to my father’ s directions. Ma was a tiny woman; she would have come hardly to your chin, missy, but there wasn’t a thing she feared in this world… ”
Some weeks later, when the Montgomery and Townsend wagons were still a little short of Kanesville, the Ugly Grey threw a shoe, and lost it in the deep mud. It had rained all morning, but now the clouds were breaking up into innocent fluffy white clumps scattered across a clear and pale sky. The two wagons had been much inconvenienced by rain, since it made the road a swampy, muddy morass, and brought the river far enough up to cover the trunks of trees on the riverbank. Francis and Allen Montgomery waded knee-deep in churned muck, and they were forced to the expedient of keeping dry firewood in the wagon, so that it would burn well enough in the evenings for Elizabeth and Sarah to cook a meal over it.
John dismounted immediately, almost the minute that Ugly Grey began to favor his left rear leg, but there was no finding the missing shoe in the mud, not with the way other wagon wheels and other hoofed draft animals had turned it over and over again. Allen and Francis halted the wagons, while he did a quick search. The driver of a heavy horse-team dray wagon coming the other way saw them by the side of the road, and called out.
“What kind of trouble are you having, friend?”
“My horse lost a shoe… How far are we from Kanesville? Can you recommend us to a blacksmith there?” On the clear horizon ahead of them hung a hazy smear of wood smoke, too large for a single farmstead.
“Not far… three, four miles… That where you’re bound?”
“For today… we mean to join an emigrant company there, for California. Did you just come from there? Do you know where they are camped?”
“Out west of town, in a grove of trees by the river, waiting for the river to go down,” Replied the drayman, slapping his reins, “And there’s a good few blacksmiths there… but there’s a man with a little forge set up half-a-mile back, if you ain’t keen on walking all the way to Kanesville.”
“Thank you, for your good words,” John tipped his hat, and told Allen and Francis, “Heard that? I’ll stop at this roadside forge, and catch up with you at the campsite.”
Just as the drayman had said, there was a wagon and tent back from the muddy road, in the middle of a little grove, with a well-established fire in a scratch enclosure of blackened bricks, sending up a straight line of smoke. Half-dozen cattle browsed in the damp meadow close by. A solitary man in a leather apron worked over an anvil; they could hear the clear regular ring of metal on metal, long before they saw him.
“If I don’t catch up on the road, I’ll meet you in camp,” John smiled at his wife, silently resolving to buy another horse, after enduring the constant lurch and jolt of the wagon for the last half-mile. He felt bruised and sore to his very bones after just this little way, whereas poor Liz had been patiently enduring it for weeks; So much for the comfort of the metal-sprung wagon seat. He unhitched Ugly Grey from the back, waved to Allan and Francis, and walked into the trees to the little campsite.
“Good morning,” John called, when he was in earshot, “My horse lost a shoe a half-mile back. Might you be of assistance?”
“I can.” The smith set his bit of work back into the fire, and turned to look at John. He was a big, grim-looking fellow with the enormously muscled shoulders and forearms of his trade, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, and leather apron flecked with tiny cinder burns. His face and hands were blackened with sooty grime and smoke, appearing like a gargoyle mask fringed with chin-whiskers, out of which a pair of clear, pale grey eyes the color of water sized up John and his limping horse. Something nudged at John’s thigh, and the smith remarked placidly,
“Don’t you be moving sudden-like, she’ll think you mean harm.
Quite startled, John looked down; not very far down at that, at one of the largest dogs he had ever seen, a huge fawn-colored mastiff bitch with a dark face. She sat quietly at his feet, regarding him with intelligent golden eyes.
“Dog,” said the smith quietly, and made a quick gesture with his fingers. The mastiff bitch nudged John again, as if reminding him to be on his best behavior then, because she would have an eye on him, and obediently trotted away to settle herself underneath the wagon. From there she still regarded John and her master with those unsettlingly intelligent golden eyes. She had a clownish white splotch on her nose, and another at the end of her tail, and all of her toes on each foot were white, as if she wore dainty gloves.
“Elisha Stephens, late of the Pottawattamie Indian Agency” her master introduced himself. “That’s Dog; and you would be?”
“John Townsend… Doctor John Townsend, late of St. Joseph, Missouri, soon to be on the trail to fabled California.” John extended his hand, but Stephens regarded him levelly and did not respond in kind.
“Beg pardon, my hands is powerful dirty. California? Heard me some talk. Tie the hoss up to this here tree, so’s I can get to work.”
Stephens rummaged among his tools, and a box of metal oddments, tossing a roughly shaped horse-shoe into the heart of the fire. He worked the bellows until the coals glowed cherry-red, incandescent. While the metal softened, glowing as red as the coals, Stephens shoved his shoulder into Ugly Grey’s barrel, and expertly forced the gelding to allow him to pick up his unshod foot, and rasp off some of the hoof with a great metal file. John watched with interest; this was a man who knew his trade. Ugly Grey’s eyes rolled nervously, showing some white, but not as much as expected.
When the shoe was softened enough, Stephens took the tongs and brought it out of the fire, laying it on his small anvil, and deftly pounding it into the right shape. He plunged it into a tub of dirty grey water, which bubbled up in great gouts of steam. When the new shoe had cooled enough, he took it up, filling his mouth with nails and hefted a small hammer in one hand. Just as before, he shoved his powerful shoulder into Ugly Grey, and took up the horses’ unshod hoof. While bracing Ugly Grey’s hoof in his leather-aproned lap, he spat nails into his free hand, one by one, and deftly tapped them into place, securing the new shoe.
“What do I owe you, Mr. Stephens?” John spoke with honest appreciation.
It was one of the greatest pleasures in life, to watch an expert do their work, especially if they were so very good that it all appeared effortless. And Stephens was truly that, as serene and self-contained as great artists are in the middle of their creations.
“Nothing,” Stephens’ pale, unreadable eyes gleamed in his dark face. “Pay me back with doctoring, on the trail mebbe. I’m away to California myself, in a couple days.”
“But why have you not joined the encampment with the other emigrants?” John asked, surprised out of countenance for once.
“Not one for crowds,” Stephens replied simply.
“Then… my most sincere thanks and appreciation,” John nodded.” Most certainly, we shall meet again, and I am glad of that. A blacksmith is a good man to have along on the trail.”
Stephens nodded inscrutably, and replied
“So’s a doctor. But we won’t be leaving for a good two weeks.”
“Why?” John was about to put his foot in stirrup, but something of the certainty in Stephens’ simple statement held him back.
“Grass is not grown tall enough yet. Three weeks.”
“You’ve been out on the trail before?”
“Some.” Stephens answered, “Some there. Some on the Santa Fe.”
He didn’t seem inclined to elaborate, or even feel the need to. John swung up into his saddle, and said
“I’ll look forward to seeing you again… by the time the grass is grown tall enough.”
“I’ll be there,” Stephens replied.