And now, for today's story:
It was one o'clock in the morning of a late January 1878. Alice lay rigid in her bed in the wagon box. She was afraid that if she moved, she would wake her husband who slept beside her. The twitching of his body and his heavy breathing, broken every now and then with incoherent mumbling, told her that again he had worked too hard the day before and his body was still protesting the abuse he gave it.
Alice was tired to exhaustion also. It had been a miserable day. Their caravan of horses, wagons, and extra stock had arrived at the river's side in the late afternoon after a long, tedious day of driving. The weather had been terrible. It had started to snow before they had broken camp at five that morning, and the storm had increased with each mile they had laboriously covered. The wind-driven snow had laced the horses' long eyelashes, and when her husband had left his perch on the high spring seat of the wagon to crawl back under the canvas cover, she had seen his beard was stiff with tiny icicles.
When they finally reached the river, everyone was ready to hurry through the essential chores and quickly seek the warmth and comfort of his bed in one of the wagons. As usual, Alice had the last things to tend to: a quick check to see that the fires were safely banked, the dishes all washed and stored, the food packed into the grub box.
When she had finished, she made her nightly rounds to all the wagons to see that everything was well with her children. Her oldest sons were nearly grown men, but Alice still rested better if she knew they were all in their places. She found them all sleeping as peacefully as if they were on beds of down in a palace. At little Bert's bed she paused just a bit longer. She put out her hand and touched his rough, warm cheek. It was rough even against her work-hardened fingertips; she thought how his bright red cheeks, his cracked lips, and his sore, chapped hands bore mute evidence of his own little battle with the elements. Resentment rose withing her. It seemed almost too much that one so small for his age and so &ail in body should have to endure the hardships of this journey.
When she had made sure all was well in camp, the tired mother wearily prepared for bed. She was so tired she felt she could not hold her eyes open long enough to get undressed, but here it was, hours later, and she was still wide awake. Her mind, relieved of the pressing cares and interruptions of the day, took up its heavy treadmill on the path of fear--this path of fear which she had trod almost constantly in the six months that had passed since her husband first told her that they had been called by President Brigham Young to colonize in Arizona, and she and her children were to go with him this time and make a permanent home. Arizona didn't frighten her, nor did the long journey nor the Indians nor the winter weather she knew she must face. The mountain of work that she must do to prepare supplies of bedding and clothes and foodstuffs to last her family of eight for a year looked almost insurmountable, but she attacked that job with a will--work had never frightened her. She did have some moments of sorrow when she thought of leaving her comfortable home and her friends, but she knew she could build a new home and find new friends and could be happy as long as she had her children and her husband with her. The only thing that frightened her was THE RIVER--she always thought of it in capital letters-- THE RIVER, THE BIG COLORADO RIVER.
All these months the roar of the great river as it crashed and, leaped against its banks in its swift descent to the sea had never been far from the level of her consciousness. And even when her driving responsibilities had occupied her waking hours, the terror of THE RIVER had broken through to haunt her dreams. Many a night she had awakened with the influence of THE RIVER so strong within her that her whole body shook and dripped with perspiration, and she had found it difficult to compose herself to sleep again.
Alice was a very quiet woman. If she had troubles and sorrows, no one knew about them, for she kept them to herself. But finally the dread of THE RIVER had grown so large within her, she could no longer cope with it alone. One night when she was especially restless, her tossing and turning had awakened her husband, and timidly she had confided in him. He was amazed. "Why Alice," he had gently chided her, "I can't understand you at all. You had the courage to leave your home and family in England when you were but a girl to cross the great Atlantic Ocean in a small vessel, and to walk all the way across the plains pulling a handcart. You crossed many rivers, some of them as wide and dangerous as the Colorado. Why are you afraid of it?"
"Oh, can't you see?" she replied. "Then it was just my own life in danger. Now there are you and my dear children."
Her husband had tried to assuage her fears. "Well, don't you worry any more," he said, "We will make it, all right. The servant of the Lord has called me. We must not falter." And with the strong faith that drives out fear, he had considered the matter settled.
But it was not so easy for Alice. Perhaps it was because her mind had run so long in the same path that it had lost the power to choose a new one. She had tried, and there were days when she had pushed this obsession so far down into her subconscious that she thought it was gone. And then some little thing would bring it up, and her battle would begin again.
Then when they had stopped at THE RIVER's side that afternoon, and she had seen with her own eyes the swollen stream, its waves topped with a frosting of ice, and had heard with her own ears the menacing roar that beat against the rock sides of the riverbed, she knew with certainty that nothing she had imagined could be any worse than the reality of the crossing that she must face so soon. With a cry of despair she had turned and run from THE RIVER and for the rest of the day and evening she had driven herself so hard with work that there had been no time to really think.Now the camp was quiet. Everyone--even the animals--were resting from their arduous labors. Even the storm had abated. Alice could hear the flapping of a torn bit of canvas as the wind blew it against the wagon, the breathing of her husband, and the muffled roar of THE RIVER, and that was all. But the roar of THE RIVER penetrated her very being and turned her heart to ice and started her mind once more on its weary quest for surcease from the dreadful feeling within her.
To Be Continued....