A hot bath, filled with scalding water all the way to the lip of the tub, infused with rose oil and sea salt. Real food served on china plates with actual silverware, spread atop a clean tablecloth over a wooden table. A cold drink poured into a clear glass with a sprig of mint. Bella would gladly crawl on her hands and knees the rest of the way to the coast for any of these luxuries.
Bella longed for the modern conveniences she’d unknowingly taken for granted. The past five months had been the most difficult of her life. She’d learned to cook in a pot over an open flame, do laundry and wash dishes on her knees next to a rush of freezing water with bars of the most horrible lye soap, and darn holes in her and her father’s clothes. Thank God she'd paid attention when Mrs. Williams had taken it upon herself to teach Bella how to do mending. She was still flabbergasted that Charles could manage to wear holes in the heels and toes of every pair of socks he'd brought on the cross-country trek, sometimes requiring darning over already patched areas.
Every part of her body screamed for relief. Her body and mind were exhausted. Now that the trip was nearly over, she thought about how this campaign, this damnable journey across the country, could have ended up killing her or her father if even one thing had gone differently.
She almost laughed as she remembered thinking that sailing from Boston harbor to Baltimore had been the worst leg of the trip. From the very beginning she thought this plan of her father's was a fool's errand! The ocean tossed the vessel mercilessly among the waves, and Bella truly thought she'd never be well again. She spent nearly the entire voyage in their cabin, heaving into a wooden bucket next to her bunk. Charles, however, was unaffected by the pitching of the ship, but Bella found it hard to be angry with him as he cared for her until they docked in Baltimore harbor. Once on land again, Bella made her father promise that they would not take to the water again.
Cook and Mrs. Williams had tried to teach Bella some meal preparation basics. She knew how to prepare eggs, flapjacks, and biscuits, as well as simple soups and stews. Cooking wild game was still a mystery to her, but she tried, again and again, to roast the rabbit and pheasant that Charles caught when they stopped for the night. Her father was a good sport and ate his meals without complaint, but Bella found she could barely swallow some of the meat she’d tried to prepare with the limited spices they’d brought along. If only she’d had more time to prepare...
The ladies at Dorthea Dix had insisted that Bella stop teaching them reading and writing and start letting them run the curriculum. They wrote down simple yet filling recipes for her to use once she’d gotten settled. They gave her advice about housekeeping and decorating a home, including how to make her own curtains and how to cut squares for a quilt. In fact, one of the women gave Bella a quilt she’d sewn recently as a baby gift for her niece, bringing tears to the eyes of both women.
"It's her second baby," Mrs. Donovan assured Bella when she protested against accepting the gift. "Don't worry, my dear. I have four months to knit another blanket for her. Penny would want you to have it."
Bella visited the home every day, and three days before the ship was scheduled to leave for Maryland, one of the older women in the home beckoned her to the doorway of the great room.
“Miss Bella,” Mrs. Kirby said, “I’d like to show you something. Had it a long time, and I think it might do you some good.”
She led Bella down the long corridor to her small room and ushered her inside. Bella sat down on a ladder-backed chair as Mrs. Kirby pulled a longish brown box out of the armoire in the far corner of the room.
“Now, you probably don’t know this about me, but my husband was one of the men who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their western adventure to the Pacific coast.” She sat down on the side of her bed, balancing the box on her lap. Bella watched in wonder as Mrs. Kirby pulled a dusty leather-bound journal from the box.
“No, I didn’t know that, Mrs. Kirby. You never mentioned that,” she answered kindly. The older woman smiled.
“No, I suppose not,” she responded with a quick laugh. “I honestly didn’t know if anyone would be interested. Lord knows my own children weren’t.” She stopped abruptly and moved the box off her lap, replacing it with the journal. She smoothed her wrinkled hands over the soft leather.
“Unlike, me, Mr. Kirby knew his letters, so he decided to document everything that happened while he was away. He was so proud to go with Captain Meriwether-Lewison that trip, I just can’t tell you.” Mrs. Kirby’s eyes misted at the memory, and she let out a little laugh. “Just proud as punch! When he got home, he promised to teach me to read so I could see where he’d been and what he’d done while he was traveling across our great country, but, you know how it goes.” Her voice trailed off for a moment, and then her faded blue eyes snapped back to Bella.
“I want you to have this. Mr. Kirby told me he met so many Indians, heard so many wonderful stories. He wrote down what he could remember, and drew a few pictures.” She handed the journal to Bella.
“Oh, no, Mrs. Kirby, I can’t accept this. It’s too dear to you,” Bella refused gently. “I can’t possibly take your memories!”
Mrs. Kirby chuckled. “My dear, you and your mother have always been so kind to me. You taught me to read and write my name, something I’d always wanted to master and never would have if it wasn’t for you ladies. I’ve read this journal at least five times since I learned to put words together, and I’ve even made a copy. So please, make an old woman happy, and take the thing. It might come in handy where you’re going.” She proffered the book again.
This time Bella took it, a lump rising in her throat. “Thank you, Mrs. Kirby. I promise to take good care of it.”
Mrs. Kirby smiled. “Oh, before I forget, there are a few pages about the Indian nation living in the area where you’ll be moving. I believe they are called the Quileutes. Mr. Kirby was very impressed with them and their ways. He even drew a picture of a woman and her son.” She extended her hand, and Bella knew to hand the book over. The older woman flipped through the pages until she seemed to find the one she wanted, and handed the journal back to Bella.
On the page was an ink sketch of a beautiful, young Native woman, standing tall next to a long log structure. Clinging to her skirt was a tiny boy, his huge dark eyes staring at the artist unafraid. There was something about the boy, something in the curve of his face, in the depth of his gaze, that was captivating.
"A lovely family, aren't they?" Mrs. Kirby's voice broke Bella from her daydreaming. "Mr. Kirby was an excellent illustrator. For some reason, I just get lost in the eyes of that little Quileute boy."
Bella bit her lip, trying to quell a smile. There was definitely something about the boy's eyes, something that make her feel like she was looking at someone she knew. Where was he now? He must be in his sixties by now, maybe a father himself.
Bella traced the sketch lightly with her fingers and smiled at Mrs. Kirby. “I can’t wait to read your husband's stories. This is such a treasure! I’m so honored that you are giving me something so precious to you, that I feel that I should give you something in return.” She cast about for something she could give the woman, perhaps a piece of her mother’s jewelry? A scarf?
“No, no, please, I don’t need anything. All I ask is that you write to me from time to time and let me know how you’re doing. I do so wish you a safe journey, Miss Bella.” Mrs. Kirby reached over and patted her hand.
Before she could check herself, Bella reached over and gently grasped Mrs. Kirby’s frail hands with hers, holding the journal in her lap with her elbows. Mrs. Kirby squeezed Bella’s hands in return and smiled broadly.
“You take care, child. I look forward to reading about your adventures.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Kirby,” Bella whispered hoarsely. She stood up and walked to the door. She turned to face the older woman before she left. “I promise to write once we’re settled.”
Mrs. Kirby remained on her bed and nodded at Bella. She blew her a kiss and shooed her out of the room.
And so, armed with a quilt, a handful of recipes, and Mr. Kirby’s journal, Bella boarded the steamship with her father and a trunk full of plain cotton dresses, sturdy boots, daguerreotypes of her family, some books, and trinkets of her mother's that she couldn't part with, including an ornately engraved gold locket her mother had never been without. The locket had been a gift from Charles after Bella had been born, and within one oval side there was a small picture of proud Renee cradling a newborn Bella in her arms; the other half held a picture of Bella at ten years of age, her playful smile showing off two missing front teeth. She thought about the white satin dress and slippers that she’d snuck into the trunk when Mrs. Williams wasn’t looking. She’d been planning on wearing that dress for her debut, perhaps now it could be her wedding dress, for when she met her Freddy Marsh.
Leaving Baltimore behind them, the rest of the expedition to Independence, Missouri, took another week. After the disastrous steamship jaunt down the coast to Maryland, Charles bought them passage on a train headed to St. Louis. Bella was excited and relieved to be riding a train for such a long distance; in all honesty, she'd never been outside Boston in her life. As much as she hated to admit it, moving to Washington had become an adventure, worthy of Lewis Carroll and James Fenimore Cooper. The journey had also brought her closer to her father, perhaps almost as close as they'd been when Renee and Philip were alive. Losing Philip had taken a toll on her parents, especially Charles. Watching him come back to life, little by little the further they got from Boston, from the past, softened Bella's heart towards him. She hadn't seen her father this happy or animated in a long time, and she wanted so much to please him, to not give him any reason to regret bringing her along. Every smile, every hug, every shared joke brought Bella further out of herself and into the new life that Charles so desperately wanted to build for them.
In St. Louis, the Swans boarded a stagecoach with four other passengers to Independence, Missouri. Bella was continuously amazed at the changes in the terrain since they'd left Massachusetts. She'd watched as the landscape rolled by, astonished, as they crossed the dense forests of New England and moved through the rolling hills of the Virginias and Kentucky. She had no idea the country was so beautiful. By the time the coach stopped briefly in Tipton, halfway between St. Louis and Independence, to water the horses, the Swans and the Carters had gotten to know each other quite well. The Carters, husband Jim, wife Teresa, children Karen and Toby, were on their way to St. Joseph to visit with Teresa's parents. Karen was Bella's age, 17, and the girls found they had much in common. They discussed books and fashion while Charles entertained Jim and Toby with fascinating and sometimes bizarre stories pulled from the case files at Winston and Ingersoll. Mrs. Carter was deeply engrossed in a thick book during the trip and said little, however she did smile from time to time when she overheard something that sparked her interest.
Finally, they reached Independence, and the party said their good-byes before going their separate ways. The girls promised to keep in touch, with Karen giving Bella her home address in St. Louis. After collecting their belongings, Bella and Charles crossed the street to a modest, two-story whitewashed hotel across the street from the stagecoach station to spend the night. Surprisingly, Jim had convinced Charles to stay at the hotel instead of rushing to meet up with the wagon train they would be part of for the next five months. Grateful for the short respite, Bella took the opportunity to take a hot bath and wash her hair in her room before dinner, not sure when she’d be able to do either in any comfort on the long pilgrimage ahead.
As she sank into the hot water, Bella could feel her spirits life as layers of dirt and grime were carried away from her skin into the healing balm of the bath. Even without rose oil and sea salts, Bella let herself relax, one muscle at a time, determined to enjoy the heat as long as she could. She had nearly dozed off when a sharp rap at her door roused her.
"Bella? You still alive in there?"
She sighed, almost laughing at the seriousness of his voice. "Of course, papa," she called from her bath. "I'll be right down."
Her father chuckled deeply. "Take your time, Bells."
Reluctantly, Bella emerged from the tin washtub and dried off. She chose a deep grey dress with white lace at the neck and wrists to wear to dinner, slipped into a pair of black boots and walked down to meet her father.
Early the next morning, Charles secured a schooner and two oxen, a rifle and shells, and other required supplies. The hotel staff loaded their trunks onto the wagon, wished them well, and gave them directions on how to find Captain Murphy’s wagon train camped near the river. Bella went to the general store with Charles to make the purchases and helped determine what they might need on the trail. In addition to the cast iron cooking equipment, the tin cups and plates, and the metal flatware, they purchased 400 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of lard, 350 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of beans, 50 pounds of fruit, 38 pounds of coffee and 14 pounds of salt. There was a beautiful china tea set decorated with tiny pink and yellow roses for sale at the counter, and Bella was sorely tempted to add it to the till, but practicality won out and she dutifully put the idea out of her mind. Surely there would be another opportunity to buy a similar set once they got to Clallam County.
Bella couldn't imagine not having access to the little luxuries of life, even in the wild frontier of the Pacific coast.
There were at least two dozen wagons situated next to the river, so many families traveling together. The group spent a few days camped there, getting to know one another and learning important rules and regulations that all wagon trains must follow. Captain Murphy made his expectations known two nights before the company embarked. He gathered the families around his wagon to make the announcement.
"First and foremost," Capt. Murphy began, "there ain't no alcohol allowed on my train. Had too much trouble with drunks fightin' and carryin' on in the past, and it ain't worth the trouble. If I catch anyone drinkin', I'm kickin' 'em out. Any man over the age of sixteen better have a gun handy, 'cause you're gonna be takin' turns on guard duty when we make camp for the night. Shifts will be rotated so you won't miss sleep more than two nights in a week. You are all responsible for your own meals. There ain't no chuck wagon in this here outfit, so I hope someone in your family is a good shot. You'll need the protein if you want to keep from gettin' sick. There's no fighting allowed, not even if you're just horsin' around. I catch anyone fightin', you're out. Finally, everyone is responsible for cleanin' up their campsite before we leave. I ain't no nursemaid, and your momma ain't here to pick up after you. You don't clean up your mess and put out your campfire, you'll have to stay behind until it's done. This here is a workin' train, everyone has a job to do and there ain't no room for shirkers."
With that the Captain gestured to the two men flanking him. "This here is Saul Kennedy and Buck Tyler. Once we get to Oregon City, they'll be leading the trains to San Francisco and Port Angeles. These are good men, and you need to consider them in charge if I ain't around. You piss one of 'em off, I'll hear about it, and you can bet you'll be off this train so fast it'll make your head spin."
That being said, Murphy, Kennedy, and Tyler turned their backs on the group and shuffled over to the campfire next to Murphy's wagon. The three men sat down and shared a pot of coffee.
It was during this time that Bella met Lauren and Jessica Stanley, eighteen and sixteen respectively, who were traveling to Port Angeles with their parents and younger brother Tyler. Myron Stanley was a banker, and apparently his vast experience on Wall Street was what drew him to the Pacific coast. While he and Mrs. Stanley seemed quite pleased at their future prospects, the girls and Tyler did not share their parents’ enthusiasm.
With her long, cornsilk blonde hair and bright green eyes, Lauren was quite popular with the single men in the train, young and old alike. Even a few of the married men shot her inappropriate glances from time to time. Clearly the young woman was well aware of her beauty and was not afraid to flaunt it to get what she wanted. Already she had several of the young men falling over themselves to do her chores for her, including fetching firewood and carrying back heavy buckets of water from the river. Bella watched the daily spectacle with bemused fascination at the level of power Lauren held over her subjects.
Jessica, on the other hand, with her wild brown curls and hazel eyes was almost invisible next to her older, more attractive sister. To escape her sibling jealousy, Jessica spent a lot of time with Bella. But instead of learning more about her new friend, Bella found herself delving into Lauren's character in great detail because that was all Jessica wanted to talk about. As they got to know each other better, Bella began to pry tidbits of personal information out of the girl without offering any of her own, which suited Bella just fine. Jessica turned out to be a terrible gossip, and Bella wasn't sure how much she wanted to share about herself that wouldn't be broadcast to the rest of the Stanleys and who knew who else.
Thirteen-year-old Tyler had a much more pleasant and playful nature than his sisters. He would surprise Bella with a handful of wild flowers one day, and leave a bird's nest on the wagon seat the next. He was an adorable boy, always joking around and playing tricks on his sisters. It did not go unnoticed to Bella that Tyler might be a little sweet on her, so she tried to keep the careful balance between discouraging any kind of romantic feelings on his part without rejecting his friendship.
Charles spent his time making an acquaintance with as many people as he could in the group before their journey began. He came back to the wagon in the evening with names and anecdotes about some of the other travelers. The first day he met The Smythes, from Nebraska, who had staked a claim on some land in San Fransico, but Charles wasn't convinced they would find the gold they wanted to discover.
"The Gold Rush is over, don't those bumpkins know that?" he laughed good-naturedly as Bella served him stew for dinner. He was becoming a better shot with the rifle, and had brought her two rabbits earlier in the day.
The Johnsons were on their way further down the California coast to start a vineyard. And the Cheneys from Virginia were headed to Oregon to enter into the very lucrative fur trade. Every day Charles met new families, but only one other would be settling near the trading post southwest of Port Angeles. Everyone else had land, jobs, or family waiting for them on the other side of the country.
The day before the wagon train departed, Charles reported excitedly that there was an actual physician traveling with them as far as Utah. Dr. Hiram Greene was on his way to Salt Lake City to rejoin his family who had gone ahead of him the previous year.
"Said he was helping the new doctor get settled in Louisville before he could leave. This is a real boon for us, Bells, for the whole train. He has all his instruments and medicines with him." Charles smiled up at his daughter as she handed him a dinner of roasted guinea fowl and cornbread. "He even knows a little about animals. That could come in handy."
One family that Bella and Charles both enjoyed visiting was Jasper and Alice Whitlock. Jasper, who had been a Major in the Confederate Army during the war, and Alice, a school teacher, had left their home state of Texas to start a dairy farm on a few hundred acres that Jasper had bought after the war ended. Alice was a perpetually happy, bubbly woman, and it raised Bella’s spirits just being around her. Jasper was more subdued than his wife, but he did spin a good yarn around the campfire when he was so inspired.
Jasper and Charles got along fine, although it confounded Charles how someone so young could have reached the rank of Major so quickly. This curiosity prompted Charles to almost beg Jasper for war stories to such a degree that Bella was almost embarrassed for her father.
But Alice laughed off Bella’s self-consciousness, telling her that she’d heard enough of Jasper’s stories to last her the rest of her life. That it was a relief for him to have someone else to tell them to.
"I swear if I hear him tell the story about that three-legged dog one more time, I'll be sleeping in your wagon tonight!" Alice whispered in a low voice. Bella stifled a giggle as Jasper held his audience captive with a tale centered around two loose cows and a sheep that followed his regiment from a farm where they'd spent the night after a skirmish with the Yankees near Natchez, Mississippi.
People tended to gather when Jasper started speaking. It was either his Texan twang or the timbre of his voice that drew people to him, or maybe, Bella thought, it was the thrill of living vicariously through a Confederate soldier's experiences that pulled such a crowd. Either way, she was glad it happened after dinner; otherwise she'd have gone through their supplies within the first month of the trip.
Bella and Alice became fast friends, looking forward to their new lives in Clallam County as well as being neighbors. Having Alice around gave Bella some of the peace she’d been seeking since her mother’s death, for which she was grateful.
It was this raven haired, dark eyed pixie who introduced Bella to the joys of washing clothes in the river.
"How can you stand it?" Bella complained, looking down at the reddened, peeling skin on her hands and fingers. She sighed while inspecting her broken nails, which she was afraid would never have the beautiful oval shape they once did.
Alice laughed. "You get used to it, Bella," she said, trying to comfort the girl. "I know it's hard on the hands, but think about it this way - you'll never have dirt under your nails!"
Bella blushed when she realized how shallow she was behaving. She fought to give Alice a tight smile. "You're right, of course. I know there are just some things I'll have to get used to doing."
Alice dropped the shirt she'd been washing and turned to kneel in front of her friend. She reached out and grasped Bella's wrist to get her attention. Meeting the girl's despairing, tear-filled eyes, Alice's gaze softened.
"Listen, my mamma died when I was born, and I was raised by my grandma. I would have liked to have died when she did if it wasn't for Jasper. He needed me, just like your daddy needs you. I know that losing your mamma and moving out to God-knows-where on the other side of the world is hard, believe me, I know! But don't fret; things will get better. Anyway, you have me, right? We can get through this together."
Bella let out a grateful sob and fell into Alice's arms, thankful that she'd found such a sweet and steadfast friend at the very time one was needed.
"Now," the pixie said firmly, giving Bella a final pat and breaking their embrace. "Let's finish this up and go back to camp. I'll teach you to make a nice loaf of bread to feed Charles tonight. Your daddy won't know what hit him!"
Bella nodded, wiping her tears and continuing with the laundry, her heart a little lighter than when she'd started the chore.
Once the wagon train started moving, the group quickly learned to work together and offer assistance and support to each other. It was rather like a large extended family. If someone got sick or hurt on the trail, someone else would gather firewood for them or help lead their wagon. Getting across the rivers was a very precarious business and each member of the train looked out for the other at every crossing.
There was a breathless moment, while crossing the Arkansas River in Kansas, when it looked like the Turner's wagon was beginning to float away, despite the desperate strength of the lead horses and the guidance that Mr. Turner and his son Will were attempting to provide. Luckily, several men, including Charles and Jasper, who had already crossed the river rushed out and jogged through the current to help steady the wagon before it was lost.
Another close encounter with tragedy occurred when Tyler and several of his young friends were playing outside the ring of wagons after the convoy had made camp for the night. As Bella and Alice prepared dinner, the Swans and Whitlocks had taken to eating dinner together every night, when they heard a terrified scream and Tyler came barreling straight over to Dr. Greene's wagon.
"Come quick!" the boy shouted, pointing a shaky arm towards the east side of the camp. "Bobby Jenkins just got bit by a spider!"
Dr. Greene quickly got to his feet and deftly pulled his black doctor's bag from the wagon. Tyler's announcement was loud enough to gain everyone's attention. Nearly the entire train rushed after Tyler and the doctor to check on Bobby, his parents in the lead. After a brief examination of the scared and tearful boy's arm, Dr. Greene determined that it was not a spider that bit him but merely a rather large black horsefly. He applied some salve to the red and slightly swollen area on Bobby's forearm, and let the boy's mother usher him back to their wagon with the promise of bread pudding for dessert. Mr. Jenkins tried to pay Dr. Greene, who waved away his money.
As they walked back to their campfire, Charles leaned over and whispered, "See? I told you having a doctor around would come in handy!"
When the smell of salt water reached the wagon train, Bella knew the long, arduous journey was almost at an end. They were now only days away from Oregon City, where the group would split into smaller trains and continue on to their different destinations: Mr. Kennedy leading twelve wagons south to San Francisco and Mr. Tyler taking the Stanleys and four other families north to Port Angeles.
Bella spent her last few days on the trail listening to Jessica rant about the four marriage proposals that Lauren had received during the campaign. Her jealousy had reached new heights, and Bella was rather relieved that they would be parting ways soon.
"Unbelievable!" Jessica carped as she and Bella kneeled next to a small creek, elbow deep in dirty dishes. "I mean, she gets FOUR proposals, and I have none. None! Simply unbelievable! Well, we'll see how the fellows like her when I put some poison ivy into her facial cream! She'll have a rash for days, and no one will want her then!"
After a day of rest in Oregon City, Capt. Murphy led the Whitlocks and the Swans north to the small trading post in Clallam County. Bella bid farewell to Jessica and Tyler. The girls hugged briefly and echoed sentiments to write as soon as they were settled. Shyly, Tyler handed her a bouquet of small white flowers before sliding her a toothy white grin over his shoulder as he followed his sister back to their wagon.
In early September, barely two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, the small, exhausted group finally reached the trading post. There wasn’t much to it, really, just a livery stable, small hotel with restaurant, saloon, a blacksmith, and a general store. The sheriff’s office and was located just south of the hotel. The little town was bustling with activity; she could see people milling about in the open doorways and windows of the buildings, horses were tied to hitching posts along the main street. It was like many of the small towns they had driven through during the cross-country trip.
After a lifetime in Boston, her new home was, in all honesty, a disappointment. But what had she expected? This was undeveloped country, after all, and not nearly as populated and established as the east coast. Still, Bella felt a pang of homesickness as she took in the unfamiliar sights before her. Not one building was painted. There were no gas lamps lining the road. Bella steeled herself and tried to swallow her budding unhappiness. She would not feel sorry for herself. She would not dwell on the past. This was a new start, and heaven knew that she needed to be strong for her father. Something Renee had told her years ago echoed through her memory.
"My dear, your father would never admit to it, but men really are the weaker gender," Renee lectured one day as she and Bella tended the rose garden just outside the kitchen door. "Lord knows I love your father and your brother dearly, but," she paused to snip off a dead bloom, "they would benefit greatly from walking in my shoes for a day."
An unfamiliar high-pitched whistle filled the air, and Bella's attention was drawn to the street several feel in front of the wagon, where a Native man was walking towards them. Judging by the string of animal pelts he held in one hand, he'd come to town to trade. Bella could not take her eyes off his bronze skin and powerful shoulders. She felt a seed of excitement in the pit of her belly. His long black hair flowed across his shoulders, and Bella had to tear her eyes away, lest her father catch her staring at him. She thought briefly about the woman and the boy in the journal. Maybe the man was Quileute? Would he know who the boy was if she showed him the sketch?
The whistle must have been a call of some kind, a signal, because almost immediately two younger Native men came trotting out from the general store and together the three made a intimidating group. Bella found herself studying them until they veered off the road and went down an alleyway between the livery and an outbuilding. None had the softness around the eyes like the small child immortalized between the pages of the journal. She dragged her gaze away from where the Native men had gone and tried to pay attention to her father as he guided the oxen to a spot in the hitching post in front of a rustic one-story building. The sign above the veranda read 'HOTEL' in large black block letters.
Charles looked around the town with pride.
“Well, here’s our new home, Bells,” he announced as he climbed down from the wagon. He reached up and helped his daughter ease down from the hard wooden bench. “Our land is located just a few miles outside of town. But, I was thinking that it might be nice to spend tonight in the hotel?” He smiled down at Bella, already knowing what her answer would be.
“Oh, yes, please! Thank you, thank you!” She threw her arms around her father's neck and hugged him tightly. He must be joking; did she want to stay at a hotel? Of course! A hot bath, soft bed, and a meal that didn't consist of cornbread and wild game or salt pork? Her last stay in a hotel had been in Independence; it felt like a lifetime ago.
Charles grinned and leaned over to kiss the top of Bella’s head. “Anything for my girl.”
Alice and Jasper pulled up alongside the Swan’s wagon. Jasper jumped down as Charles secured the oxen to the hitching post, and the beasts began drinking from the water trough in earnest. Bella waited for Alice on the wooden sidewalk.
“Alice, are you staying here tonight, or going on to your farm?” She asked anxiously.
“We are definitely staying here,” she sighed as her husband followed Charles into the building. “I don’t think I can stand to sit in that wagon another second!” The two young women stretched a little to relieve their aching backs and walked away from the thirsty animals on stiff legs.
"I never want to sit again," Alice moaned as she surreptitiously attempted to rub her sore backside.
Bella giggled. "I know what you mean," she answered, exaggerating her movements to stretch her legs. "All I want is a bath and the biggest chocolate cake on the menu."
"Ooooh, me too!" Alice groaned. "But I want strawberry shortcake. I've been craving it for weeks."
"Wait," Bella amended, "I want to eat the chocolate cake while I'm in the tub. Now that's living."
The girls laughed and went into the hotel, nearly breaking down in tears at the simple display of comfort and luxury that they had been missing. The lobby was small and plain, but nicely decorated with homey touches. The rough hewn chairs had carefully upholstered seats, backs, and arm rests, and tatted doilies decorated the center of each small, round table. There were two horsehair couches, faded, but well maintained.
The hotel clerk looked to be in his early thirties, with a round chubby face, eyeglasses, and a shock of dark hair. He greeted the four companions politely, and once paid for the rooms, passed over the keys.
Charles walked up to his daughter and handed her the key to her room. “Here you are, Bells. I have taken the liberty of ordering you a hot bath whenever you are ready. I need to go next door to meet my deputy, but I’ll be back in time for dinner.” He patted Bella’s shoulder and left her with the Whitlocks.
After promising Alice and Jasper to meet them for dinner, Bella made her way down the hall to her room, never thinking that she’d be so happy to see a hotel room in her whole life, even a plain and unassuming hotel room such as this.
A young man carried her trunk into the room on his shoulder. He was tall and thin, with black hair and dark brown eyes, right around Bella's age. The name tag stitched into his vest said 'Eric.' His eyes didn't meet hers; instead he dropped the trunk on the floor next to the bed and nervously made his way back to the door.
"Wait! It's Eric, right?" Bella called out, halting the boy in his tracks. "You forgot your tip." She held out a folded bill, gesturing for him to take it. The corner of Eric's mouth twitched into a half smile as he accepted the money.
"Thanks," he said in a low, husky voice. Pocketing the bill, Eric turned and hurried from the room, as if afraid to be in there alone with her.
Soon after he left a housekeeper arrived asking Bella if she was ready for her bath. The girl almost wept in relief, thanking the housekeeper profusely. The older woman smiled knowingly; she herself had settled here after a long trip from Ohio, so she knew how hard the trip was on a body.
Several minutes later, a bellhop bearing a tin washtub and a troop of maids with pails of water descended upon her room. The bellhop placed the tub in the center of the room and left quickly as the maids poured the water in, asking Bella periodically for her opinion on the temperature. Once Bella was satisfied with that, the maids took their buckets and left the room, closing the door tightly behind them. Alone at last with her deepest and most fervent desire, Bella made sure the curtains were drawn and the door bolted before she stripped hastily and slid into the hot water.
After washing her hair and aching body with the scented soap the maids had handed her, Bella lingered in the tub until the water became tepid, fingers and toes wrinkled from being submerged for so long. Regretfully she emerged from the tub, dried off with the towel one of the maids had left, and dressed in a deep green gown, one of the heavier ones she’d had made. September in Boston was quite a bit warmer than it was in Washington, she’d noticed.
Bella was searching for a warm wrap when she heard a soft knock at her door. She released the lock and opened it to find Alice looking fresh-faced and relaxed on the threshold.
“Hello, “ Alice chirped. She wore a dark blue dress and carried a soft grey shawl. “I think Jasper and your father are already in the dining room. Are you ready?”
“Yes, thank you for waiting for me.” Bella and Alice followed the hallway into the lobby, making the turn headed away from the front desk that led into the dining room.
"So," Bella began, "did you manage to fit in a nap or did you nod off in the bath like I did?" Bella giggled and looked over at her friend, expecting a similar response. But the dreamy, demure look on Alice's face was unexpected.
"Well, I was planning on a hot bath as well, but...Jasper had other...ideas," Alice responded softly. Bella gasped and blushed deeply, biting her lip as she looked down at her feet. Other ideas...
When she started her menses at thirteen, Renee sat her down and delivered a brief and perfunctory lecture on the topic of what a man and a woman did behind closed doors, purely an explanatory summation of 'a wife's duty to her husband.'
But Bella didn't want to believe that marital relations could be reduced to 'a duty.' A brief exposure to religion had taught her that marriage was an obligation to God to procreate, to 'go forth and prosper.' But watching the relationship between her mother and father, Alice and Jasper, and Maimie and Freddy Marsh seemed a direct contrast to what the church and Renee would have her believe.
Was lovemaking, to borrow Maimie's word, truly just a - a service that a wife performed for her husband? Just another chore a woman must endure if she wanted a man, a home, and children of her own? Bella didn't believe that. She didn't want to believe it. People didn't look at each other with such longing, with a hunger, simply for the sake of performing a household task. Did they?
Bella snuck a sidelong look at Alice. She had such a blissful look on her face. She smiled vaguely to herself, then caught Bella looking at her and her smile widened. "You know, it's nothing to be embarrassed about, Bella." She reached over and touched the girl's arm lightly. They had almost reached the double doors leading to the dining hall. "I can only imagine what you've been told about...sex," she said in a low whisper, "but it's the most natural thing in the world. So, please, if you have any questions, you can ask me anything."
Bella's face burned, but she met Alice's gaze evenly. Questions? Where should she start? But they were at the entrance to the restaurant, and hearing the murmurs of the diners, Bella didn't especially wish to draw any attention to their conversation. "Thank you, I think," she said wryly. Alice laughed out loud and they scanned the crowd, looking for the right table.
They spied Jasper and Charles seated across the room speaking to a third gentleman. As Bella got closer, she saw that the newcomer was a few years older than her, with dark auburn hair and green eyes. He wore a deep blue coat and vest over a pair of tan trousers. The collar of a white and blue pinstriped shirt peeked out from under the vest, which was partially unbuttoned.
The three men stood as the young women approached.
“Bella, Alice,” Charles introduced, “this is Edward Masen. He owns a logging camp not too far away from here.”
“Actually, three camps, Sheriff,” the young man corrected politely. He nodded and smiled at Alice and then Bella, his eyes lingering on her a little longer that what was considered appropriate, Bella thought. She blushed and lowered her gaze, moving to sit in the chair next to her father.
Edward hadn't been certain when the idea struck him earlier in the day, but now he was convinced that coming to meet the new sheriff was an inspired idea. He'd heard through the grapevine that Sheriff Swan had a daughter, but he had no idea she's be so lovely. A pure innocent. How exceptional.
“Well, it was good to make your acquaintance, everyone.” Edward stood and nodded to the group. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other around town.” Again his eyes fell on Bella, and she gave him a small smile before he turned and left the restaurant.
Bella sat down at the table and casually glanced over at Edward's retreating back. No man had ever looked at her like that before. It wasn't a hunger, really, but...maybe attraction? Interest on his part? Maybe the hunger, the passion came later, after they'd gotten to know each other? Jasper said something and Bella snapped her attention back to the present and tried to concentrate on the conversation.
After Edward was gone, the waiter approached the table, food and beverages were ordered, and friendly conversation ensued. Bella’s thoughts kept drifting back to Edward Masen. He was certainly handsome and polite. She remembered his deep reddish hair and his amazing pine green eyes. Then, for some reason she couldn't fathom, the Native man walked into her thoughts. His bronze skin, his long, dark hair, his well-muscled body. A warm feeling grew from the pit of her stomach and flowed outward, her pounding heart pushing the warmth throughout her body. She thought about the picture of the Native boy in Mr. Kirby's journal, and was suddenly overcome with the desire to find him, find out what happened to him. Whatever connection she had to that drawing began pulling at her, tugging at her heart, driving her to find out what happened to him.
As for Edward Masen, well, she might want to know more about him, too.