Mary Martha's Really Truly Stories: Book 4
by Hayden, Gwendolen Lampshire
Skip: A Pioneer Boy
Skip Thought It Was Lots of Fun to be a Pioneer
Prairies and Patches
SKIP STIRRED restlessly, opened his eyes,and sleepily pulled himself into a sitting position on his straw-tick mattress at the end of the big, white-topped wagon. For a moment he sat motionless as his brown eyes blinked at the sprawling forms of his older sister, Lizzie, and two younger brothers, Frank and baby George. He swayed back and forth with the movement of the six horses that plodded heavily along in the chill early-morning air. To the very marrow of his travel-weary bones he felt the tiresome, clumsy rocking of the heavy prairie schooner.
With a lithe, catlike motion he suddenly flung aside his warm patchwork quilt and turned to the wagon’s tailboard. His round, inquisitive eyes stared out across the vast, trackless sea of sugar grass, rye grass, and tule, whose ten-foot-tall stems stretched up as far as the high wagon seat where sat pa and ma. At a hoarse, whispered sound beside him he turned quickly to look straight into his sister’s brown face.
“Skip, did we eat breakfast? Or have we been riding all night?” she asked in a low voice, fearful of wakening the fretful baby. “I seem to have lost all reckoning of time, traveling the way we are. It just seems months and months since we left Nevada City.” She snuggled down under her covers, shivering in the cold air.
“No, we haven’t eaten breakfast yet. I ’spect pa and ma started extra early today. They prob’ly decided to let us sleep, planning to stop later on to build a fire and cook breakfast. You know how anxious pa is to get to Rocky Point tonight. He said yesterday that if he had to put one more patch on this wagon or spend one more day on this prairie, he believed the whole outfit’d fall to pieces. It’s been a mighty hard trip.”
“It sure enough has,” soberly agreed Lizzie. “And I hate it, too, every bit of it! I’m not like you, Skip. You think it’s fun to be a pioneer and go away off in the wilds somewhere to live. But I downright miss Nevada City and all the houses and all my friends. I wish I were back there right now.”
“Well, I don’t,” stoutly asserted Skip. “I think this is lots more fun. Listen! The folks are talking. Maybe we’ll find out when we’re going to stop.”
“I declare,” boomed pa’s deep voice, “I never saw such fertile land.” The children saw him reach out from the high seat to pull off a bluejoint grass stem waving far above the wagon bed. “No, sir, Ione, I never saw such good land. Why, the soil’s been rich like this all the way from the shores of Harney and Malheur lakes. And in all our five hundred miles over the old Emigrant Road I’ve never seen a sight to equal this one. Thousands of ducks, geese, and birds swarming on those great lakes; countless deer, elk, brown and black bear roaming through this tall sea of prairie grass; and soil that’ll grow anything a man’ll plant in the ground. Looks as though we’d come to the right place, sure enough.”
“Yes, Tom,” ma nodded, “I believe the McLeods were right. I’m glad now that they kept writing to Nevada City all this past year, telling us about Rocky Point and urging us to join them. I’ll be happy to get there, though. We’ve been traveling a long time, and I’ve seen enough strange country to last me the rest of my life.”
“Well, I reckon you won’t see much more, Ione,” pa answered cheerily. “I’ve a feeling that we’re almost at the end of our journey, and that here we’ll spend the rest of our natural days. Couldn’t find a better spot nowhere.”
“Aren’t we almost there, Pa?” questioned Skip, raising his shrill voice to make himself heard. As he stared toward the northeast his eyes sparkled, and he suddenly gasped in excitement.
“Oh, look! Look! I see it! I see Rocky Point!” he called.
“Where?” cried Lizzie, scrambling hastily out of bed, forgetful of the sleeping children, who now roused and whimpered fretfully.
“See? ‘Way over there,” Skip answered. “Look close about that-a-way.”
Pa pulled the horses to a stop while they all stared breathlessly in the direction of Skip’s pointing finger. Skip was right.
It was Rocky Point! Far, far away the little hill breasted the tall, waving sea of green grass as gallantly as ever a small, sturdy ship daringly breasted the green ocean waves.
“You’re right, boy. You’re right!” exclaimed pa. He clambered quickly down the great wagon wheel and then turned to hold up his arms for ma. Lizzie expertly gathered up the squalling George and handed him down to ma.
“Everybody dressed and out of the wagon,” pa said firmly. “We’ll stop right now and build a fire for breakfast. Everybody’s hungry, and this is as good a place to make camp as any. Better cook up some extra victuals so’s we can have something ready to eat on the way. Reckon this’ll be the last meal stop until we get to McLeods’. Lizzie, you help your ma while Skip and I tend to the horses.”
How good the fire felt, and how good the hot, frying-pan bread, boiled potatoes, and codfish tasted! The children ate ravenously, stuffing themselves until ma vowed that they could not hold another bite. Then Skip and Frank ran back and forth, round and round the wagon, glad of a chance to stretch their cramped legs. Lizzie, secretly wishing that she, too, could spend the time playing, pretended to sniff scornfully at their puppy-like romping. She set her red lips in a prim line as she busily helped ma wash and put away the breakfast dishes and pack the remainder of the food in the big, iron-bound grub box.
“It’s your turn,” yelled Skip, as he charged out from the thick rye grass. “Hurry up, Frankie. Now see if you can hide so’s I can’t find you. Quick, now, if you want to play. Pa’ll soon be ready to start. Here. I’ll close my eyes until you call ‘Ready.’ ”
He turned, hid his face on his raised arm, and waited until he heard his small brother’s voice, faint and far away.
“Re—a—dy. I’m all re—a—dy.”
“Don’t go far from camp, children,” cautioned pa. “Better stay around pretty close. You must remember that this is a wild, unsettled country. We’re likely to run onto any kind of critter, and some of them can be mighty unfriendly.”
“All right, Pa,” Skip answered on the run, only half listening to his father’s advice. “Come on, Liz, help me find Frank,” begged Skip. He dashed off in the direction whence his brother’s little voice had called. “We’ll have to hurry. Pa’s going to harness the horses pretty soon.”
“Here we come,” chanted Skip and Lizzie. “Here we come, on the run.” Feeling like mighty hunters in a dense green jungle, they scurried here and there through the tall grasses that waved high above their heads. On and on, round and round in circles they ran, shouting and panting for breath. But no small voice answered them.
At last they stopped and looked at each other with round, frightened eyes. It had been some time since they had heard pa’s or ma’s voices. Far back in the distance ma had called their full names, and they knew that ma never used their full names unless she was frightened or angry, or unless she was politely introducing them to a stranger.
“Ione! Ione Elizabeth Schuyler! Schuyler McClintock. Frank! Frank Talbot. Where are you? Where are you?”
Pa’s voice too had sounded weak and far away. “Lizzie. Skip. Frankie. Where are you? Answer me. Where are you?” His big booming voice had been muffled. They could not tell from which direction it had come.
Although their hearts thumped painfully and they breathed in deep gasps, they again began to run—on and on and on into the nowhere of the tall green grasses—until they were forced to halt. Their ears ached to hear a familiar voice, but only the vast silence answered them. With sinking hearts Skip and Lizzie realized that they were lost. Little Frank was lost, too, somewhere in this waving forest of sugar grass, rye grass, and tule. They were lost on the vast, level, unknown prairie.
Lizzie caught tight hold of Skip’s grimy hands. She held her head high and tried to speak bravely, but Skip saw telltale tears in her eyes and heard her voice quaver. “What shall we do, Skip? I don’t know which way to go. Do you?”
“No, Liz, I really don’t,” Skip answered stoutly, though with a sinking heart. “But one thing sure we’ll have to depend on ourselves, just like pa said. We’ll have to act like real pioneers now and try to figure how to get out of here. We’ve got to figure out something, because pa said when he hobbled the horses that he wouldn’t be able to see their backs if they got loose out here, so we know he can’t see us either.
“I reckon we’d better wait right here. If we move we may just wander farther away from camp. I do wish I’d listened to pa. And I-I wish we’d brought Shep with us. He’d have known the way back, all right.”
Lizzie’s tear-filled eyes brightened hopefully. “Skip! Let’s scream as loud as we can. Maybe Shep’ll be close enough to hear us even if pa and ma can’t. If he is, he’ll come running. Then we’ll be all right.”
Quickly the two children faced in opposite directions, screaming loudly. Again and again they stretched their mouths wide and shouted until their tired voices were hoarse and their throats sore. And at last, just as they turned despairingly toward each other, they heard a series of shrill barks that rapidly grew louder and louder.
“Good old Shep,” they cried. “Good old dog. Come here, Shep. Come on, good old dog.” They jumped up and down, looking anxiously this way and that through the tangled grasses.
Closer and closer came the barking Shep until at last he burst through the prairie wilderness and leaped joyfully upon them. It was just at that happy moment that they heard a scream of pure terror.
“It’s Frank!” gasped Lizzie. “Listen.” Again they heard the little boy’s pitiful wail.
“He’s over there,” Skip said, his tanned cheeks paling. “Here, Shep. Go to him. Go to Frankie.”
“Oh, what do you s’pose is wrong?” Lizzie sobbed jerkily as they ran pell-mell after Shep, heedless of the sharp grasses that slashed painfully across their faces and hands.
An Ugly Gray Beast Melted Away Into the Tall Grass
At last they burst breathlessly into a tiny, half-open spot. They were just in time to find Frank sobbing in terror while Shep leaped after an ugly, slinking gray beast. They stood horrified as the strange, snarling creature stopped for an instant and turned its blazing yellow eyes toward them. Then it melted away into the grass until only the vaguest outline could be seen, driven from the small clearing by the ferocious growls of the stiff- legged Shep.
“Liz, Liz, I’m s-s-scared!” wailed little Frank through chattering teeth. He stumbled toward them, his face white and tear stained. Lizzie met him halfway and clutched him tightly in her arms. “I’m afraid, Liz. I want ma,” he sobbed, flinging his little arms around her neck.
“Sh-h-h. Shh, Frankie. We’re all right now,” she soothed, at the same time casting a terrified glance toward the place where the big wild animal had so recently stood snarling at them.
And then all of a sudden everything was all right. “Lizzie. Skip. Frank. I’m coming. Pa’s coming.” First the children heard the sweet sound of pa’s strong voice.
Then there was a sound like thunder as pa’s muzzle-loading rifle boomed over their heads. And suddenly there wasn’t even the faintest outline of that awful beast across the clearing. Only faithful Shep was left with them in the half-open circle.
“Missed!” exclaimed pa in disgust. “I should have hit that critter dead center. Guess I was too excited.”
The children ran toward him, rejoicing in his nearness and his strength. “O pa, what was it?” cried Lizzie, wiping away her tears on her stained calico apron.
Pa smiled down at Lizzie and Skip as he reached out and took the limp Frankie from Lizzie’s tired arms.
Pa slowly shook his head. “I don’t rightly know,” he said. “Could have been a coyote or maybe even a timber wolf. Anyway, it’s a mighty good thing I sent Shep after you when I did, for that varmint looked like a mean customer to me. But all’s well that ends well, and you’re all safe and sound, with nothing worse than a few scratches and a bad scare. When I heard all the commotion I was mighty afeard that I might have to put some patches on you children, same as I’ve been doing to make the wagon hold together. And I’ve about run out of patches.”
His kind eyes twinkled happily down at them. Skip and Lizzie began to lose the tight ache in their throats, and little Frank gave a tired sigh and leaned his head against pa’s shoulder. It didn’t seem half so far going back to the camp as it had seemed running away from it. And it was good to have ma hurry to greet them and give each of them a thankful kiss.
They were all very quiet as they settled down in their accustomed places in the big wagon to resume the last part of their journey. Baby George was already asleep. Soon Lizzie and Frank closed their eyes. And after a while Skip’s head began to nod. Over and over in his ears rang the singsong refrain of the many places that they had seen along the way—Nevada City, California, Oregon, Warner Lake, Mule Springs, Buzzard Canyon, Double OO, Weaver Springs, Venator Ranch, Old Emigrant Trail, Harney Lake, Malheur Lake. He wondered when they would reach Rocky Point. Again in his thoughts the names began to go round and round: Nevada City, California, Oregon—
“Welcome! Welcome to Rocky Point,” two cheery voices sang out. Skip’s head straightened with a painful jerk. He stared dazedly before he realized the truth. At last their big wagon had rolled to a stop in front of the lone house. Their long journey had ended. At last they had arrived safely at Rocky Point!
“Why, Skip, how you’ve grown! And you, too, Lizzie, and Frank. Here’s the new baby too. Bless his heart.” Mrs. McLeod reached hungry arms for little George and cradled him close against her.
“But come now, good friends. It’s almost dark. No more talking until you’ve had a chance to wash and eat supper. I know how tired of camp cooking you must be, for I made that same trip last year. Come right this way. I’ve got lots of hot water on the stove. You children can clean up out at the wash bench while your pa tends to his horses. Then by the time he comes in I’ll have the supper dished up and steaming on the table.”
All of them ate a great deal of the delicious home-cooked food, but Skip ate until he thought he would burst. The quantities of boiled beef and potatoes, corn bread and wild currant jelly, and dried-peach pie vanished like snowflakes on a red-hot griddle. Everything tasted good to the hungry, weary travelers.
At last Skip’s head dropped lower and lower. His black hair fell forward into his almost empty plate and his freckled nose pressed against the last bite of dried-peach pie. He could not remember ma removing his outer garments or pa carrying him out to the bed in the wagon. But he smiled happily in his sleep as, in a half-dream, he heard pa’s deep voice speak gently:
“Sleep well, my brave boy. Sleep well. Tomorrow we begin our new home in this great valley. Sweet dreams, Skip, our boy pioneer.”
End of preview.
Here is the Table of Contents of the complete book:
Skip: A Pioneer Boy
xhtml#C01">Chapter 1—Prairies and Patches
Chapter 2—Dugout Days
Chapter 3—Winter and Wolves
Chapter 4—Christmas at Rocky Point
Chapter 5—Cabins and Catamounts
xhtml#C06">Chapter 6—Rafting on the Amazon
Chapter 7—Cecil’s Hill Crash
Chapter 8—The “Evil Eye”
Chapter 9—Boots for Manfred
Chapter 10—Junior Dorcas, Unlimited