Chapter 1 – Oregon calls
"Time for supper," my mother calls.
My father sets aside the book he's been reading, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains. My sister Primrose takes four tin bowls and spoons off the shelf. Mother carefully removes the cast iron pot that hangs over the fire and carries it to the table.
"Katniss Everdeen, clear away those shavings," she scolds.
I've spent this late winter afternoon making arrows at the table. I scrape the wood shaving into my hand and toss them into the fireplace. I put the carving knife and the arrow I was shaping into a trunk near the foot of the bed Prim and I share. I return to the table to join my family who are devouring the squirrel stew.
"Better hurry," my father says. "We need to get there early if we want seats. I suspect half the town will be there."
My mother sighs. A flicker of dread flits across her delicate features.
"Are we really going to Oregon?" Prim is excited. Her blonde braids swing behind her as she jumps up to clear the table.
Father doesn't say anything. I notice he and Mother exchange looks. This idea of this journey is a sore point between them.
There is already a crowd when we arrive at the schoolhouse. My father greets his best friend Mr. Hawthorne. The two men appear almost giddy with anticipation. Mr. Hawthorne's wife Hazelle wears the same expression of dread that my mother had earlier.
"Hi Catnip," Gale greets me. At nineteen, he is the oldest Hawthorne child, just two years older than me. For a long time I expected that he and I would someday end up married. It was my favorite daydream. But last fall Gale began showing interest in my pretty, blond-haired friend Madge Undersee, the daughter of our town's mayor.
At first I was shocked, then somewhat hurt that Gale didn't share my daydream. But after careful thinking I realized that he'd always acted more like a brother to me than a boyfriend. In fact, we can even pass for siblings with our dark hair and grey eyes. Eventually I got used to the idea of Gale and Madge. Now I wonder, if Gale goes to Oregon will she go too?
Prim greets the rest of the Hawthorne children - fourteen-year-old Rory, ten-year-old Vick and eight-year-old Posy. Our two families go into the schoolhouse and find seats.
In front of us sits Mr. Mellark, the baker, and his three blond-haired sons. Peeta, the youngest, turns and smiles shyly at me. He was in my class at school, but I barely know him. He was quiet and spent most of his time with with a pasty, yellow-haired girl named Delly Cartwright. I think he wants to say something to me, but the room is growing quiet and someone is calling the meeting to order. Peeta turns forward as a large man walks to the front of the schoolroom. He stands on the teacher's raised platform and begins to speak.
"So you want to hear about Oregon," he shouts. The crowd cheers. He waits until the noise dies down. "My name is Plutarch Heavensbee and I'm here to tell you that everyone can own a piece of the Garden of Eden simply by traveling to Oregon. It's a place overflowing with wild game. There, the salmon jump out of the rivers right into your hands. Oregon land is so fertile you will never be hungry again. This year our great President Millard Fillmore will sign into law the Donation Land Act. This law will grant 320 acres of free land to any white male citizen age 18 and older. And you married gentlemen are in for a special bonus. You can receive an extra 320 acres in your wife's name as well."
The crowd is silent. I imagine everyone is doing the arithmetic. I know I am. The Everdeen family can get 640 acres of free land in Oregon. Now I understand why my father and Mr. Hawthorne have a bad case of Oregon fever. Farms here are much smaller and it's difficult to make a profitable living. Mr. Heavensbee's description makes Oregon sound like the Promised Land.
"Now you're probably wondering how you can get to Oregon territory," he says. "The safest way to travel is in a large group. And I have just the man to lead your company. Let me introduce me to your wagon train captain, Haymitch Abernathy."
A flabby, middle-aged man stands up and staggers forward.
"He's drunk," my mother mutters.
Captain Abernathy trips as he steps up onto the platform. Mr. Heavensbee grabs at him before his head hits the teacher's desk. Captain Abernathy clumsily turns around faces the crowd and sways slightly.
"So you want to go to Oregon," he shouts.
I can smell the liquor on his breath, although I am sitting nearly ten feet away.
"It's a dangerous trip," he says darkly. "Some of you will not survive."
Mr. Heavensbee noticeably flinches.
"But remember," Captain Abernathy continues, "life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing." He pauses for dramatic emphasis. "However, if you want to stay alive you'll need to be prepared."
He goes on to describe the supplies travelers will need to make the 2,000 mile journey which will begin in Independence, Missouri. These include a wagon with a canvas cover and four to six oxen to pull it, food, cooking supplies and weapons. He estimates the cost for a family could be as much as $1,500.
Prim squeezes my hand. I suspect she is thinking the same thing as me. We are not rich. Will the cost prevent my family from making the journey?
The meeting ends when Captain Abernathy falls off the platform and vomits on a woman sitting in the front row. The crowd is quiet as we exit the schoolhouse. Clearly the residents of our town have a lot to think about. Captain Abernathy said that the best time to leave for Oregon is in early May. That gives everyone who is interested only three months to prepare for the journey.
Prim and I don't hear a word about Oregon for a few days. I suspect my parents are struggling with the decision because my mother is barely speaking to my father. Several days later when Prim and I return from visiting the Hawthornes, we find my mother slamming things around the house.
Prim ignores my mother's angry outburst. "The Hawthornes are traveling to Oregon. Are we going too?"
My mother stops and looks up at both of us. Tears fall down her cheeks. "Your father wants to go, so I suppose we are."
Prim jumps up and down, but I am numb. I'm still stunned by the news that Hazelle told me during our visit - Gale and Madge are getting married soon. Gale is eager to get the double portion of land promised to married couples. I thought I was over Gale, but maybe I'm not.
The months pass quickly. Nearly fifty people from our town will make the journey to Oregon. Like the Everdeens and the Hawthornes, most are farmers and are able to sell their farms and livestock to raise capital to fund the trip. Prim sheds more than a few tears when she sells Lady, her goat, to the baker. He says he'll take good care of her. Father promises Prim that we'll get a cow in Independence when we buy our supplies for the trip.
Even some shopkeepers are making the trip. Cinna, the tailor, and his wife Portia are going, while the baker is sending his two youngest sons.
A week before we leave to travel to Independence, Gale and Madge are married. The nuptials are held in our town's small church. Madge wears a dress of white fabric covered with tiny pink flowers. On her head sits a straw hat with a pink flower on the brim. Gale is dressed is a dark suit. It fits poorly and I suspect it belongs to his father. Gale's brother Rory and I are witnesses for the happy couple. I kiss Madge's cheek afterwards and hug Gale, but I am heartsick. I thought I was over Gale.
As my family walks home from the wedding celebration my father comes alongside me. "You'll make a beautiful bride someday Katniss," he says gently.
I silently thank him for his kind words because I need reassurance today. I wonder if he's feeling bittersweet as well. Maybe he, too, assumed that his oldest daughter would one day wed his best friend's son.
We arrive in Independence in a small cart pulled by our two horses. After checking into a boarding house, Father leaves us to begin purchasing supplies. He returns after a few hours. Disappointment weighs on his face.
"The prices here are double what they are for everything at home," he complains. "The merchants in Independence are gouging people."
He and mother look over their list carefully seeing if they can cut back on any supplies.
"I think we'll need to wait on that cow, Prim," he says.
Prim nods. "That's alright Dad," she says. "Someone else will take a cow along. We can probably trade something to get milk."
"Like one of Katniss's squirrels," he says beaming at me.
I smile back. I have my bow and arrows packed in the trunk that sits in the corner of the room. While other girls can knit and sew and cook, I'm a hunter. While my mother despairs of me and my lack of homemaking skills, my father brags on my ability to shoot prey straight in the eye every time.
Later we join the Hawthornes for supper at a nearby restaurant. It is the first time Prim and I have ever eaten in a public diner. My father tells us to order whatever we like regardless of cost, although from the corner of my eye I see my mother frown at him. I choose lamb stew with dried plums in it. Dessert is chocolate cake.
I am stuffed at the end of the meal. I sit back in my chair and watch the others. The two sets of parents are deep in conversation about the cost of supplies. Gale and Madge are sitting at the other end of the table talking quietly to themselves. I see Gale pick up a strawberry off his plate and bring it to Madge's lips for her to bite. Prim is listening intently to Rory as he discusses the terrain of the Oregon trail. I think he has a crush on her. Meanwhile, I'm sitting next to Vick who is playing with his food and listening to Posy lament the journey that faces us. Something is wrong I think. Will my life always be this dull?
Prim and I insist my parent take us along as they purchase supplies for trip. We have been locked up in the rooming house for a few days and are going stir crazy. The only reading material is the Bible and Father's copy of Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains. Prim has knit one sock and finishes up the second to complete a pair for Father. I am a poor knitter and have started and unraveled a cap at least six times now because of all the extra stitches I keep picking up.
Today we join my parents to purchase oxen. Four oxen are needed to pull our new wagon. Ideally, each wagon owner would have six oxen, so he could rotate them in their duties. But we cannot afford it. Some families purchase mules to pull their wagons. While mules walk faster, they are not as strong as oxen.
The oxen father selected are called Clove, Cato, Marvel, and Glimmer. The wagon the creatures pull is 11 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep. It will carry nearly 2,500 pounds of supplies, with foodstuffs making up the bulk of it. Fortunately the oxen eat grass so we won't have to bring any extra food for them.
Mother shows us the food supplies we are taking for the journey. For the next six months our meals must be created out of flour; pilot bread, which is a kind of hardtack; bacon; rice; coffee; tea; sugar; dried beans; dried fruit; salt; cornmeal and vinegar. She also takes an ample supply of dried herbs and spirits for medicinal purposes. My mother, whose parents ran an apothecary shop, is a skilled healer. She will be an asset to the others on the trip.
Father sleeps at the edge of the town with the fully loaded wagon tonight. Mother, Prim and I return to the boarding house for the last time. Tomorrow we will meet the other people traveling to Oregon with us.
Captain Abernathy appears tired, but sober as he addresses a group of nearly eighty people the next afternoon. He goes over the written rules for the journey and insists that the head of every household sign it to show agreement. If the rules are violated, the family will be asked to leave the group. He tells us that all men will be required to take turns standing guard while the company sleeps.
Then he introduces us to our guide, Mr. Finnick Odair. Mr. Odair has bronze hair and is strikingly handsome. I suspect some of the single women are taking notice – I certainly did - but any thoughts of romance are quickly dispelled as soon as he mentions that he and his wife and child are residents of Oregon territory.
"My job is to scout out the road ahead with my horse Mags," says Mr. Odair. "If you want to make friends with Mags, bring a sugar cube. She is partial to it."
While the meeting continues, I observe the gathered crowd. Several more faces from home are here. I take note of Thom and his wife Leevy, and Sae, an older woman who is the known as the best cook in town. Delly Cartwright is standing between Peeta and his older brother Rye.
Did Peeta get married, too? I guess not, because Rye puts his arm around Delly and pulls her close.
Peeta catches my eye at that moment and I blush before turning away. I'm embarrassed to be caught staring at Peeta's obvious misfortune. He must be angry at Rye for stealing his girlfriend.
Chapter 2 – Tragedy Strikes
We leave for Oregon early the next morning. After waking to the sound of gunfire, Mother and Prim light a fire to make coffee. Father and I harness the oxen to the wagon. When we are done, we join them for coffee, pilot bread and dried fruit. We are too excited to eat more.
It's pandemonium as families get ready to start the journey. A loud trumpet blast calls. Ever so carefully, the wagons fall into a single-file line and the trip begins. There are thirty wagons in our company. Our rig is somewhere in the middle of the line. The Hawthornes follow immediately behind. They have two wagons. Mr. Hawthorne drives the first, while Gale drives the second.
Five minutes into the journey it becomes clear that we will have to walk alongside the wagons. The ride is much too bumpy to sit inside. My father stops briefly to allow Mother and Prim and I to get out of the rig.
"Cover your heads," my mother insists and hands us our bonnets once we leave the confines of the canvas cover. Mother doesn't want our skin to tan in the sun because it is very unfashionable. Prim, with her blonde hair and fair skin could easily burn. My skin with its olive cast is less likely to but I listen to her and tie my hat on.
All the passengers get off the Hawthorne's wagons as well. Within a few minutes, we all walk together alongside the wagons talking. My mother and Hazelle chat about the next meal, while Rory entertains Prim with some story about an old cow. Posy skips along touching various bushes and plants, while Vick picks up the odd bug to torture. Madge walks over to my side.
"How is married life?" I ask her. I've avoided any lengthy conversations with her since the wedding. I tell myself its to give her space to adjust to her new situation, but I know deep down that its because I'm jealous of her.
"Oh," she stammers. "Gale is wonderful. It's just that I miss my parents so much. I never thought I'd have to leave them when I told Gale I'd marry him. I never thought I'd be going to Oregon. But Gale wanted to go so much."
I nod. I never considered Madge's thoughts about the journey. She is an only child and had to leave her mother, who is bedridden, and her father behind. She knows she may never see either of them again.
"My mother isn't happy about it either," I admit. "It really was my father's idea."
"How do you feel about it Katniss?" Madge asks.
I ponder the question because I haven't given much thought to my future for quite a while, ever since my daydream of marrying Gale proved to be a fantasy.
"It's a great adventure," I feebly say. Wasn't it Captain Abernathy who said life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing? Well my life has been nothing for while. It's about time for me to have a daring adventure.
Madge and I talk about all kinds of inconsequential things that morning. Anything but home. At noon a trumpet blast sounds. The wagon train stops. The drivers get out to stretch and we eat a quick lunch of more pilot bread and dried fruit.
"Take out your bow and arrows Katniss," my father tells me after we eat. "See if you can get some squirrels for dinner."
Once the train starts again I easily break away to look for wildlife in the tall prairie grass that lines the trail. I am lucky and get three rabbits and two squirrels.
When the trumpet calls a halt to our day's journey, Captain Abernathy measures a large circle with stakes. Each wagon parks next to a stake with the front end of the wagon close to the back end of the wagon in front of it, and the back end close to the wagon behind it. Father and I unhitch the oxen and lead them to water first, and then a nearby field to graze.
Meanwhile, Mother and Prim have collected water from the nearby Kansas River, skinned the meat and prepared dinner. We join the Hawthornes in feasting on rabbit and squirrel, cornbread and dried fruit around our campfire. Captain Abernathy appears at the end of the meal.
"Where'd you get the meat?" he inquires.
"My daughter Katniss shot it," my father tells him. "With her bow she gets them right through the eye every time."
He looks at me carefully. "If she's that good, she should join the hunting party. We don't usually allow women, but I think we can make an exception in this instance."
He smiles at me, then asks my mother for a drink. She hands him a cup of coffee but he shakes his head. "Do you have anything stronger?" he asks.
Mother frowns. "No."
Captain Abernathy nods and walks away, heading for the next campfire.
"Do not trust that man," Mother says. "He is a drunkard. I can't believe he is leading our group."
Father laughs at her. "He's done a good job so far," he says.
"We'll just see," Mother says before she turns away and begins collecting plates to wash.
By the time Prim and I have washed the dishes, it's time to prepare for bed. My parents will sleep inside our wagon, while Prim and I take two quilts from the trunk and set them out in the grass near the Hawthorne children. Their parents have settled inside their wagon while, Madge, of course, is sleeping inside the Hawthorne's second wagon with Gale. As Prim and I are get comfortable, I notice Peeta on the other side of the grassy circle. He is walking far away from his wagon to sleep in a bedroll in the grass.
I fall asleep quickly that night and awake at dawn to the sound of gunfire. I lift my head and see some people are already up and restarting their campfires. I stretch and gently shake Prim.
"It's morning, little duck."
Prim yawns and sits up quickly. We each grab a quilt pulling it tightly around us as we run toward our wagon to wash our faces and brush and re-braid our hair.
This day is just like the one before. In fact, we follow the same routine every day. The only difference is that everyone is getting friendlier the further we travel from civilization. After the evening meal, people visit each other at their campfire. Since we share a campfire with the Hawthornes and eat meals together, ours is one of the larger ones. We attract a good number of visitors every evening.
Thom and Leevy stop by. She is expecting a child in four months. She spends a long time talking with my mother and Prim because they will likely help in the delivery of the baby. Sae brings some stew. She promises to bring more if I can get her some squirrel or rabbit to add to it. Cinna and Portia tell us they are still in business and are available to take on sewing projects in the evenings. They also have a cow and will sell us some cream so we can make butter. Even Peeta makes his way to our campfire. He brings a small flat cake topped with a sugary frosting one evening.
"For Katniss's birthday." He hands the cake to my mother. She is surprised.
"I forgot about your birthday," she says looking at me. "You're eighteen now." She turns and questions Peeta. "How did you know?"
"From school," he says smoothly. "We talked about our birthdays as part of a lesson."
My mother nods knowingly. I, of course, remember that our teacher had that lesson with our class when we were third graders. Why would Peeta remember something about me from so long ago? And why would he be bringing me cake now? We've never been friends. I think I'd call him an acquaintance.
"Thank you," I tell him. I smile briefly and his blue eyes light up. I have to look away quickly after that. The sensation of having that much power over someone feels uncomfortable to me.
After traveling for six days, Mr. Abernathy calls for a day of rest. Well, we're not resting exactly. Rather, it gives the women the opportunity to do laundry and men a chance to hunt for game. Unlike our family the others have not had the opportunity to get fresh meat every day.
Because of Mr. Abernathy's suggestion, I'm able to skip the clothes washing and join the men on a hunt. There are eight people in the group, including myself. The other hunters are my father, Mr. Hawthorne, Gale, Mr. Odair, Mr. Homes, Mr. Boggs, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Snow. The men carry rifles. I am the only one with a bow.
"How delightful you look my dear, just like an Amazon huntress," says Mr. Snow, an older gentleman with fluffy white hair. He has an odd floral scent about him and I move closer to my father when Mr. Snow is near to me.
There is a small wooded area about a mile from the campsite and we walk through tall grasses to get to it. Gale and his father, and my father and I have always hunted. We know to be quiet in the woods. Other than Mr. Odair, I doubt the others have ever hunted before. They stomp their feet and scare away all game in the area. Mr. Boggs smokes his cigar the entire time. The smell alone would drive the game away. Mr. Homes and Mr. Mitchell shoot their guns randomly at trees and bushes, hoping to get lucky.
After an hour, most of them are ready to go. Mr. Boggs has nabbed one squirrel, but he managed to destroy most of the meat with his poor shot. Mr. Odair volunteers to walk them back to camp. After they leave, my father and I, and Gale and his father quickly shoot several rabbits and five wild turkeys. It's not much, but will be a welcome addition to our diet.
That evening the camp holds a big feast. We all come together and share our evening meal. Sae is in charge of the cooking. Peeta makes a fluffy frosted cake for dessert.
"He must have some special kind of flour," Hazelle tells my mother when she tastes a piece of Peeta's cake. "How is he baking this over a campfire?"
My mother turns and looks at me. "Ask him his secret Katniss," she says. "He's sweet on you."
My face grows hot. "What? I don't know what you're talking about."
My mother laughs. I stand up and walk away. I know Peeta is sweet on me, but it's not something I'm trying to encourage. He acts nice, but he's not my type at all.
After our day of rest, the gunfire sounds early the next morning. We're back to the regular routine. After three weeks of travel the terrain begins to change. We leave the tall grasses behind as we come to the Platte River, or the "Big Muddy," as some travelers call it. The ground now is harder and trees are rare. The grass is shorter, too, and there is a lot of dust in the air. Most everyone wears a scarf or bandana over their face to keep the dust out of their nose and throat.
Prim celebrates her 14th birthday. She makes sure to mention it to Peeta beforehand so that he will bring her a small cake, too. Madge gives her a notebook and Prim begins keeping a journal of our trip. I learn that several of our fellow-travelers are also keeping diaries of the journey. I wish I had thought to do such a thing.
Every day is the same, as is every evening. Until it isn't.
Father and Mr. Hawthorne, along with Mr. Boggs, are keeping guard the evening everyone is awakened by an enormous explosion. My heart pounds as Prim and I hold each other. Posy starts crying and I reach over and pull her close.
Suddenly there are many voices shouting. A moment later, I hear a woman screaming. I recognize the scream immediately. It is my mother.
"Stay here," I tell Prim and Posy. I run with Rory and Vick toward our wagon. Mr. Odair is holding my mother back from racing toward the burning wagon. She is scratching his face. He grabs her arms and holds them behind her back. Some men are pushing the burning rig away from the other wagons in the circle. There are three bodies lying nearby on the ground.
"What happened?" I yell at Mr. Odair.
"An accident," he replies.
It takes a better part of an hour to untangle the sad story. My father, Mr. Hawthorne, and Mr. Boggs were walking the perimeter of the camp. They stopped to talk near Mr. Snow's wagon. Mr. Boggs lit his cigar and tossed the match away. It landed in the wagon atop a large keg of gunpowder.
"I'm going to kill him," Gale screams when he hears what happened. He's barefoot and bare-chested and clutches a sleepy Madge to his side. I don't know if he means Mr. Boggs or Mr. Snow. But it doesn't matter anyway. Mr. Boggs is nearly dead and Mr. Snow seems to have vanished in the confusion of the moment. It is clear Mr. Snow isn't dead though, because there is no body and his horse is missing.
"Damn scoundrel was probably going to sell the gunpowder to Indians," Captain Abernathy guesses.
We don't sleep the rest of the night. I doubt anyone in the camp does. We all react differently in our immediate grief. My mother sobs hysterically. After a couple of hours it becomes too much; Mr. Odair slaps her hard across the face so she can calm herself down. Prim sits alone and simply rocks, her eyes growing ever teary. Hazelle is more restrained. She keeps hugging her younger children, then breaking into sobs. Madge is pale and teary. Gale and I are the same. Angry. We have to do something. So a bleary-eyed, half-drunk Captain Abernathy sets us to work - digging our fathers' graves.
The funeral is held at sunrise. The entire camp is there to give us support. People try to comfort us. Several approach my mother and Hazelle to speak, but all of us, both Everdeens and Hawthornes push everyone away. Only Madge, the newest member of our group, is able to accept condolences from our friends. Right now our pain is too deep to let anyone in.
Cinna and Portia had sewn a sheet around each body. Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Homes lower the two men into their graves. We all pick up dirt and toss it on top. Captain Abernathy reads a short passage from scripture and leads us in a prayer. My mother starts screaming again as the Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Homes begin filling the graves. Loud. Everyone averts their eyes and leaves the gravesite.
Captain Abernathy tells us that we have one hour to prepare before the wagons take to the road. Prim and I have to drag my mother off of my father's grave and dose her with laudanum so we can begin to hitch the oxen up to the wagon to continue on our way to Oregon.
When I'm driving the wagon later that morning, I remember the last time I saw my father. It was after dinner. I was coming out of our wagon carrying the quilts to make up the bed for me and Prim. My father had kissed my mother goodnight as he left for guard duty. As he walked away, I saw Peeta approach him. They stopped and spoke for a few minutes. I was too far away to hear what was said, but it looked like a serious conversation. My Dad shook Peeta's hand. What was that all about?
Chapter 3 – New Allies
Mr. Boggs is dead by the time we stop for our mid-day break. We don't attend his funeral because we cannot. It is too much to bear. My mother lies in the wagon. She stares off into space, her eyes glassy. Occasionally she whimpers like a small puppy.
Prim is dry-eyed. She is not a little duck any more, rather she is a mother hen. She consoles Posy and Vick, and the ever attentive Rory. Hazelle climbs into our wagon and attempts to talk to my mother. But she is in a daze. She's deaf to all words.
"Why is she acting like this?" I ask Hazelle.
"It's the shock," Hazelle says.
"But you're not in shock," I say.
Hazelle doesn't answer me.
I want to scream and yell at my mother. I want to slap her like Mr. Odair did to bring her out of her hysteria. But I don't have time for it. I have to get water for the oxen and find something for Prim to eat.
That evening it feels like the entire population of our company converges on our campfire. Most, like Sae, bring food. But others bring spirits. We are so worn down with grief, so exhausted from lack of sleep, and so tired from a long day on the road that we give up. We accept the condolences they bring. It's an evening of tears and remembrances, and even a few laughs. But when it is over our hearts are strengthened, at least for the moment.
I wish my mother could experience it. But she stays in the wagon and refuses all visitors. Later when the people return to their wagons to prepare for sleep, Prim tells me that she wants to sleep with our mother tonight.
"I'm worried about her Katniss."
I nod. I sit by the dying campfire. Gale sits with me, as Madge had already retired for the evening.
"Are you going to continue the trip?' he asks.
I must have a puzzled expression on my face because he doesn't wait for my answer. Instead he continues to talk.
"Without your father, your family isn't eligible for free land in Oregon. Only men can get the land. Your mom can't make a claim because she's a widow now."
"That can't be right." But as I think back to what Plutarch Heavensbee said at that meeting in the schoolhouse just four months earlier, I know Gale is correct. The land is available to men age 18 and over and their wives. It isn't available to unmarried women.
"I've been thinking about it all day," Gale continues. "My mom can't get free land anymore. Madge and I are the only eligible ones. I'm responsible for supporting my entire family now."
What am I going to do? My throat tightens.
But Gale has an answer for me without my even asking my question aloud. "Maybe you should consider getting married Catnip. You could help your family."
I can hardly breathe. I feel as trapped as a wild creature caught in a snare.
Gale stands up to go to his wagon. "Think on it," he says, before walking away to join Madge for the night.
I sleep alone in the grassy circle. I can't even curl up with Posy because Hazelle is keeping her inside the wagon tonight. The nightmares are horrific. My sleep is interrupted several times when I see explosions and flying body parts in my dreams. Two times I sit up and scream. The first time I wake Vick yells at me, "Shut up Katniss, you're dreaming."
The second time an older man named Mr. Cray shakes me awake. I recognize him as one of a handful of men in the company my parents warned Prim and I to avoid because of their unsavory appearance. "A pretty girl like you shouldn't be crying in her sleep," he says, holding my arm a bit too tightly.
I pull away and jump up from the ground. I'm embarrassed and frightened. Suddenly I don't feel safe sleeping outside. I pick up the quilt and climb into our wagon. Mother and Prim are sprawled across the area between the trunks that line the wagon's sides. There is no space for me. I sit up against their feet and doze until dawn.
I am stiff when I awake. But there is so much to do. I have to gather the oxen and hitch them up. A fire needs to be started. Breakfast needs to be prepared. I shake Prim's leg.
"Morning," I call. But Prim is clearly exhausted from the previous day's events. She rolls over.
"I can't do it on my own," I continue. "I need your help."
Prim groans and sits up. My mother doesn't move. Her eyes open. She stares at me, then shuts her eyes and sighs deeply. Prim, however gets up, and sets to work.
Ever since we started this journey, the division of labor has fallen into a regular pattern: I help my father, while Prim helps my mother. Now, both of us do the work of two people because our parents are not there to help. I alone am responsible to gather Clove, Cato, Marvel, and Glimmer from the grazing spot and hitch them to the wagon. It is hard work. Vick and Rory provide some assistance, but without their father, their workload increases as well. And they have to hitch up and drive two wagons, instead of one.
The work gets done. We have no choice. But tears come easily to us. We greatly miss our father. I gulp coffee and eat pilot bread before the wagons roll. Prim offers to drive the rig. I hesitate. I am so tired. But she has never done it and I can't risk her making a mistake. If a wheel is damaged or an ox is injured we will face a serious problem. Because of my father's death, I am dependent on the kindness of others. It's a position I do not like.
My mother stays in the wagon all day again. I don't know how she can stand the bumpy ride. My backside is aching when we pull the wagons into a circle that evening. I am stiff as I unhitch the oxen and bring them to water and then to the grazing area. It is late when I return to the campfire. Hazelle has already prepared a meal of bacon, beans, cornbread, and fresh berries that Posy picked on the trail today. Everyone is nearly finished eating when I arrive.
"Did you bring some food to mama?" I ask Prim.
"Yes, but I don't think she'll eat it."
"She hasn't eaten since it happened," Hazelle adds.
I sigh. "I'll talk to her," I say.
I finish my meal and go into our wagon. My mother is lying down. Her eyes are closed but I can tell she's not sleeping.
"You need to stop this," I say. "You need to get up and come outside. You need to eat. You cannot give up. Prim and I need you. We can't do this alone." My voice starts out softly, but it gets louder as I continue. At the end I'm shouting. I know that everyone at the campfire can hear me.
My mother is silent. After a minute she says softly, "I never wanted to go to Oregon. This was not my dream. It was your father's. And now we're stuck."
I wonder if she understands exactly how bad off our circumstances are – if she figured out what Gale explained to me last night.
"But we have to go on," I say. "You and Prim and I cannot go back home. There's nothing there. We sold our farm and spent the money to make this trip. We can only go forward."
I look at my mother's eyes. I can tell she fully understands what I'm trying to say. But she shakes her head.
"I don't know if I can," she whispers.
I leave the wagon. I don't know what to do.
I help Hazelle with the dish washing. When we are near finishing Captain Abernathy approaches us. He staggers a bit and smells like liquor.
"How are you two holding up?"
"It's not easy," Hazelle replies.
"It isn't," Captain Abernathy agrees. "That's why we didn't take a break yesterday after the tragedy. If I let this company take a day off to grieve, things would have been worse. You would all end up like her." He motions his hand toward our wagon.
"How is your mother?" He looks at me sadly.
"Not good," I admit.
"She'll improve. It just takes time. People grieve differently." He pauses for a moment, then looks at me, "Let's you and I take a little walk."
I look toward Hazelle who nods at me.
We leave the wagon circle and walk toward the area where the cattle are grazing.
"I want to give you my most sincere condolences."
I mutter "thanks," before he continues.
"Now you're a smart girl who finds herself in difficult circumstances. You have no father to protect your family. You have no husband to protect you. There may be unscrupulous men who would take advantage you. They may even be on this wagon train."
A wave of fear washes over me. I think about Mr. Cray who shook me awake from my nightmare last night.
"You and your sister, and even your mother are worth 320 acres to any man who would marry you," he continues. "Keep that in mind. You need to be very careful of who you trust. I have overheard conversations regarding your family's situation that would make you shudder."
Bile rises in my throat. I'm scared and angry now.
"On the other hand, it would certainly benefit you to marry. It would make this journey much safer and easier for you and your family. It would give you and your family a guaranteed future in Oregon."
I don't know what to say to this conversation, so I simply nod.
"Think about it sweetheart," he says as we head back toward our campfire.
I sleep inside the wagon tonight with Prim and Mother. They make space for me, but I hardly rest. Instead I replay Captain Abernathy's conversation over and over. Would someone really take advantage of us? How? Should I warn Prim? And who does he think I'm supposed to marry? The only single male I know who is 18 or older on this trip is Peeta. And I barely know him.
The whole idea is ridiculous, I conclude. Mother and Prim and I will have to find jobs when we get to Oregon. We'll have to find some way other than farming to support ourselves. We don't need free land to survive.
As the days go by, my mother continues to wallow in her grief. She doesn't leave the wagon, but fortunately starts to eat again. Prim and I continue to do all the work. Hazelle and Madge help us by cooking all our meals. We help them by washing all the dishes. We work as a team together.
Just a week after the explosion, Gale asks me if I will stay with Madge in their wagon that night.
"I have guard duty and I don't want her to be alone," he says.
My heart pounds. I don't want Gale to do guard duty. I think he'll die. Just like my father. Just like his father. Just like Mr. Boggs. But he has no choice.
"I'll stay with her," I tell him.
I'm exhausted when I climb into Gale and Madge's wagon that evening. I'm ready for sleep. But Madge wants to talk.
"What are you going to do Katniss?" Madge asks.
"What do you mean?"
"Gale told me what he said to you. Do you want to get married?"
I grimace. "I don't have anyone to marry."
"What about Peeta? He remembered your birthday. He made a cake for you."
"I barely know him. Besides he's probably still in love with Delly. Isn't it strange that Rye married his brother's girlfriend?"
"Delly wasn't Peeta's girlfriend."
"Yes, she was. They were always together."
"Maybe. But you were always with Gale. And I married him."
Exactly, I think, as the conversation ends.
The next day we hear a "whoop" from one of the wagon drivers in the front of the train. He's the first to notice Chimney Rock, a large pyramid-shaped slab of reddish rock that has a natural spire arising from it. We are still days away from reaching it, but the well-known landmark fills everyone with excitement. A tinge of bitterness fills my heart when I realize my father is missing this sight.
At dinner that evening Gale tells us there is going to be a change in the order of the wagon train.
"The Mellark wagon is going to fall back and join our group," he says. "They'll be immediately ahead of your wagon Catnip."
"Why?" I am angry. What is he trying to do – match me up with the baker's son?
"I did guard duty with Peeta last night," Gale explains. "He and his brother aren't happy with their neighbors. The couple on one side spends every evening arguing. The family on the other side has small children that cry all night long."
"This will give you a chance to get to know Peeta better," Madge says with a smile.
"Be nice to him Katniss and maybe he'll make us a cake," Prim adds.
This is terrible. I'm not good with words, but I'm going to have to talk to Peeta and set him straight or else the rest of the trip will be a nightmare. Maybe I could say, Peeta, I know you're sweet on me. But I'm not interested in you, despite the fact that everyone tells me I need to get married so that my family will be safe on this journey and have a home when we get to Oregon. No, I can't say that.
What about this? Peeta, everyone thinks we should get married except me because I don't even know you. Besides, I think you're still in love with Delly. He might take offense.
Or maybe this? Peeta, I can't marry you simply to get free land, even though everyone else thinks it's a good idea. My father would never approve of it. He'd want me to marry for love, like he and my mother did. I'm angry and embarrassed to find myself in this predicament. No, it's too much information.
I wish my father were here to advise me.
I'm still pondering this dilemma when I see Peeta, Rye and Delly walking toward our campfire. I immediately get up and beginning collecting dirty plates to wash.
"Help me Prim," I whisper. She lifts the heavy pot of warm water that hangs over the fire and carries it to a makeshift table nearby. I begin to wash the dirty dishes I've stacked on the table. Prim dries.
I listen to the greetings around the campfire.
"We just talked to the people in the wagon ahead of the Everdeens," Rye says. "They said we can slip in behind them tomorrow."
"It sounds good," says Gale.
"It will be so nice to have neighbors from home," Delly says. "Now we can eat our meals together every day."
I wonder what Hazelle thinks of that. Now she has to feed three more people.
"Do you like to cook?" Madge asks Delly.
"Not so much," Delly says. "But Peeta is teaching me to bake."
The dishes are cleaned and dried. I put them away in Hazelle's wagon.
I have nowhere to go except back to the campfire. I try to act nonchalant, but I'm nervous and uncomfortable. I look everywhere but at Peeta. I'm glad it's almost dark now. I'm sure my face is red because it feels so warm. Finally after what seems an eternity Rye says goodnight and the three of them leave.
Chapter 4 – Becoming friends
The Mellark wagon stays back from the train, then pulls in front of ours as soon as we leave in the morning. Rye is driving. Peeta is walking alongside Delly. From my perch in the driver's seat, I notice Prim join them. The three remain deep in conversation all morning.
I wonder what they talk about. I hope Prim doesn't beg for more cake.
The trumpet calls for mid-day break. I stop the wagon and climb inside the cab to check on my mother. She sits up for a change instead of lying down. Her gaze is still glassy though.
"We have new neighbors," I tell her. "The Mellark wagon is in front of us now."
No response. Then a hint of a smile appears at the corner of her mouth.
"The boy with the cake," she says. "He's sweet on you."
Ugg. Maybe I shouldn't have told her.
"You need to eat something," I say, quickly changing the subject.
I manage to avoid Peeta for the entire noon break. It's only after we stop for the night that I face him. I've unhitched Clove, Cato, Marvel and Glimmer when he appears out of nowhere.
Without saying a word he helps me lead the oxen to the river to drink.
"I need to go back now to start dinner," he says once they are drinking. "Will you be alright?"
Of course I'll be all right. I do this every single day I want to tell him. Instead I ask, "Doesn't Delly make dinner for you and your brother?"
He frowns. "Not anything that's edible."
"I can stay here, if you'd like."
"No, I'm fine. You should go back and make your dinner."
He turns and walks back to the campsite.
The oxen drink extra long that night before I take them to the grazing area.
Surprisingly my mother is eating at the campfire tonight. Peeta, Rye and Delly are also there, although they are sitting in a group somewhat separate from the rest of us.
"Peeta brought biscuits," Prim shouts when I arrive later than everyone else.
Hazelle hands me a plate filled with bacon, beans, biscuits and dried fruit. I sit on the ground as far away from the Mellarks as I can. I focus on eating first, but once I'm satiated I lift my head to survey the group. Gale and Madge give me looks of disgust.
I suspect they're upset I didn't sit near Peeta. Maybe I should have sat on his lap.
I quickly glance in his direction. Fortunately, for once he's not staring at me. He's talking to Delly.
"We need to create a work schedule," Gale announces when everyone finishes eating. "So everyone will know what to do."
"What are you talking about?" I say. "We already know what to do."
"Now that Rye and Delly and Peeta are traveling with us, it would be more efficient to divide up the labor," he explains. "That way no one gets worn out."
I want to complain loudly because no one asked me if we should add new members to our group. It seems like something we should vote on. But I realize now that I'm not the only one who's been struggling with the extra workload created by our fathers' deaths. Gale is responsible for two wagons. His brothers have helped me with the oxen on several occasions. His mother has been cooking for all of us, carrying the slack because my mother has been in a stupor of grief. It's only normal that he would want extra help.
"That sounds good," Rye said. "None of us can cook, although Peet can bake. It would be great if someone else could cook for us. We have plenty of food we could give you."
Hazelle nods. "It could work," she admits. "Let me think on it."
"Rye and I could help drive," Peeta adds. "We rotate with each other, but one of us is always available."
Even thought I don't like the idea of turning the wagon over to another driver, I have to admit I'm tired of driving every day. It would be nice to get a break and walk alongside for a change.
I sense a change in the atmosphere around the campfire, something like a collective sigh of relief. Maybe adding new traveling companions is a good idea.
I look toward my mother. I'm pleased to see that her face is alert. Like she might be ready to participate in life again. We could certainly use her help.
I stand up and begin collecting the dirty plates so I can begin the dishwashing, when my mother rises quickly.
"No, Katniss, let me get those. I'll do the dishes tonight."
I stop and stare at her amazed.
"It's such a beautiful evening," she says. "You young people should take a nice long walk and enjoy the scenery."
I knew there was a catch somewhere. Gale and Madge stand up, along with all the Mellarks. Prim draws to my side, but my mother grabs at her arm.
"No Prim, I need your help."
Prim bites her lip and gives Rory a frustrated glance. He turns away and walks off in the direction of his mother's wagon.
We leave in a large group, headed in a westerly direction straight for Chimney Rock. Quickly the married couples pair up and wander off. I'm left with Peeta walking by my side. I'm embarrassed at the obvious matchmaking going on. My mother has been in a daze for days. Why did she pick this night to return from the dead?
Neither of us speaks. I search my brain to think of something to say. Maybe he does the same. But I am faster.
"I heard your other neighbors were noisy," I say. "Gale told me," I add lamely.
"Not as noisy as Delly and Rye."
I must look puzzled, because he explains, "Well they are newlyweds."
I blush. Silence reigns.
"How did you end up traveling with them anyway?"
He stops and picks up a rock from the ground. He turns it over in his hand and pretends to study it like it has special qualities. At least I think he's pretending because the rock looks like every other one on the ground.
"It was a last minute decision," he finally says, looking at me. He takes a deep breath. "I heard that you were going to Oregon and I had to go too."
What? He left his home to travel 2,000 miles to follow a girl who barely knows him? Why would he do it?
I'm as astonished as he is embarrassed by his admission. His skin flushes bright pink. The contrast makes his eyes look even bluer than usual. He turns away and throws the rock off into the distance.
But then I wonder if what he's saying is even true. Maybe he really came so he can stay close to Delly. Maybe he's declaring a fake love for me as a cover to hide his unrequited love for his sister-in-law. I have to ask.
"What about Delly?"
A look of shock crosses his face. He appears absolutely stunned. "What does Delly have to do with anything?"
His question sounds so genuine that I'm ashamed to have asked it. Could I have been wrong?
"I thought you were together," I mumble. "At school you were never apart."
He shakes his head. "Delly?" He says her name so loudly that she hears it even though she and Rye are quite far ahead of us. She turns and calls back to him.
"Did you want something Peeta?"
"No," he shouts back.
She nods and turns away. Then we both start laughing because it seems so silly. Finally we stop.
"Our families are close," Peeta explains. "Like your family and Gale's. But Delly and Rye planned to get married for years. Delly is like a sister to me."
"I once thought something similar about you and Gale," Peeta accuses.
"No, Gale is like my brother."
My very pushy brother. I don't admit to Peeta that for a long time there were feelings on my side, because…well it's none of his business.
We continue to walk. I know I have to address the startling revelation about why he chose to travel to Oregon. So I take a deep breath. "Look Peeta," I say, "I appreciate that you have feelings for me. But I barely know you."
"Well, now you'll get the chance," he says. "What's your favorite color?"
I smile at his most basic question. "Green. What's yours?"
He points at the sky where the sun is just starting to go down. "That exact color."
We turn back toward the camp. I don't know where the other couples went. I never see them when we walk back. I tell him goodnight and climb into our wagon.
Prim waits inside with my mother. "So how did it go?" Prim asks.
I hate to admit it, but Gale was right. The addition of the Mellarks to our group lightens the workload for everyone. Even better my mother joins in to help. She and Hazelle take over all the cooking. With the addition of Peeta's baked goods, our meals greatly improve. I get a break from driving one day and shoot some prairie dogs, which are abundant along the roadway, for a stew. It's tough and chewy, but it's the first bit of fresh meat we eat since my father's death.
Delly and Madge are the laundresses for the group. They wash a few items each mid-day, then hang them inside the wagons to dry as we travel. Of course the clothing ends up a bit dusty because dirt still gets in under the canvas top, but at least it doesn't smell of sweat anymore. All it needs it a good shake. They also make sure we always have drinking water available to for washing and cooking. Prim is responsible to collect the dried buffalo chips, which are a nice name for buffalo dung, that we use to start our campfires. Vick and Posy help her. We can't use wood anymore because there are no trees on the prairie.
I haven't done the evening dishes for days now. Every night my mother proposes, "the young people take a walk." Always, the other couples abandon us and go their separate ways. I suspect they sneak back to their wagons for some private time. Peeta and I walk on the prairie and investigate buffalo skeletons and the occasional rotting carcass left behind from the many herds that roam about.
Thankfully he hasn't made any more declarations about his feelings for me. Instead, we talk about simple things, like how we spent our day, or our families, or something funny that happened to us in the past. One evening after our walk, we linger at the campfire and he shows me his sketchbook. He's illustrated many of the sights of our journey to Oregon– the bustling city of Independence, the wagon circle at night, our first river crossing, and Chimney Rock. It's similar to Prim's journal only with drawings instead of words.
I relax around Peeta because he understands my feelings and puts no pressure on me to be more than a friend. But then he doesn't have to apply any pressure. Everyone else does it for him. The others continually sing his praises to me and take every opportunity to push us together.
Chapter 5 - Missing
Captain Abernathy informs the company that we will take a one-day break from our journey when we reach Fort Laramie. The little oasis of civilization will provide us with an opportunity to rest the oxen, make repairs to the wagons, and stock up on fresh supplies. The fort is manned by federal troops who are in charge of protecting travelers on the way west.
Two miles outside of the fort is a small encampment of native peoples. We see their homes, pointed tents called tepees, from the distance. At our mid-day break Captain Abernathy visits all the wagons and tells us that until we reach the fort, all women and children would be safer inside the wagons.
"They are peaceful," he says. "But there have been problems in the past. It's better to err on the side of safety."
So I hand over the reins to Peeta who drives our wagon while Prim and I ride inside. Mother rides in Gale's wagon with Madge because she is feeling unwell.
We arrive at Fort Laramie within the hour. We camp just outside the fort, which sits on a small hill. There are two other wagon train companies already there when we arrive. We make haste to unhitch the oxen, get them to water and grazing. Everyone is eager to visit the fort. We decide to go in shifts, so that some of our party is always here to guard our wagons. My mother, Hazelle, Prim, Posy, Vick, Rye and Delly are the first to go. They stay several hours and return in high spirits.
"We have eggs," Hazelle announces.
"And strawberries," Prim adds.
We eat a supper of griddle cakes topped with a strawberries. A sugary syrup is drizzled over it.
After dinner Gale, Madge, Rory, Peeta and I visit Fort Laramie. Madge and Peeta have written letters to their families at home and want to post them at the mail service the fort runs.
A few shops stay open late to service the wagon train travelers. I notice Captain Abernathy obtains a large supply of liquor. His current demeanor indicates he's already partaken of some of it.
Peeta and I walk around the corner at the end of a row of shops when I see Mr. Snow. He is talking with Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread, both from our company. Mr. Snow says something and they throw back their heads and laugh heartily.
I freeze and gasp.
"What's wrong Katniss?"
"It's Mr. Snow," I whisper. "Look. He's with Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread." I nod my head toward them, and then quickly turn my back so I'm not recognized.
Peeta briefly glances across the road, and then turns his back as well.
"We should tell Captain Abernathy," he says.
"We should, but he's drunk right now. Mr. Odair might know what to do." A thought hits me. "Where's Gale?" If Gale sees Mr. Snow, he'll be back here with a rifle within the hour. He blames Mr. Snow for our fathers' deaths.
"I think Gale and Madge went into the general store."
"We need to keep Gale away from this corner."
We hurry back to the general store to find them making some purchases. Gale tells us that Madge still isn't feeling well and that they're returning to the campsite. Rory, who is with them, wants to stay longer, but Peeta convinces him to return tomorrow.
At the campsite, Peeta and I tell Gale that we're going to take a walk before turning in. Gale nods, and we go in search of Mr. Odair. We find him nearby. He's sitting at the opening of a small tent pitched near a campfire. He's playing with a short length of rope, tying knots.
"Mr. Snow is at Fort Laramie," I say. "We saw him talking to Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread."
"Did they see you?"
"We wanted to tell Captain Abernathy, but he's drunk."
"Yeah, he will be until the liquor runs out."
"What should we do then?" Peeta asks.
"Talk to the military commander at the fort. He's the only one around here with any real authority."
Peeta and I make plans to return to the fort tomorrow morning and find the military commander. I wish I could tell Gale, but I'm scared of how he'll react.
"You were out very late with Peeta," my mother says when I climb into the wagon. "The others got back hours ago."
"We went for a walk," I lie.
"Are you getting serious?"
Ugg. "Peeta is only a friend," I insist.
My mother makes a funny face, like she doesn't believe me. "Don't play with his emotions, Katniss, that boy adores you."
As if I didn't know.
We aren't able to leave for the fort until the early afternoon. We try to leave after breakfast but Gale stops us.
"You lovebirds aren't running off without doing some work first."
Lovebirds. Ugg! We both blush and quickly turn away from each other.
All of the wagons need to be emptied and cleaned out. The bedding needs to be aired. Laundry must be done. The wheels of the four wagons our group travels in must be inspected and repaired if found faulty. The list of chores seems endless. After the mid-day break we sneak away to the fort.
We ask several people for directions, but eventually find the commander's headquarters. I tell the commander about the explosion that killed my father, Mr. Hawthorne, and Mr. Boggs. I tell him that Mr. Snow transported a large keg of gunpowder in his wagon. Likely, he intended it to be sold or traded to Indians. I tell him that Mr. Snow was at the fort the previous evening.
"It's an interesting story," he says. "But unless you have proof that Snow was carrying the gunpowder to provide to Indians, I can't do anything about it."
I am frustrated when we leave. "I'd like to tell Gale. He'd take care of it."
"Vigilante justice doesn't work Katniss," Peeta says.
We return to jeers at the campsite.
"Where were you?" Rye yells at Peeta. "We had to take two wheels off the wagon. Delly cannot be lifting wagon wheels."
"Just because you're courting doesn't mean you get out of working," Madge tells me. "I don't feel well and I'm still working."
What? Peeta and I are not courting. Maybe that's what it looks like to everyone else. But it is simply not true.
It's not until dinnertime that everyone notices that Prim and Posy are missing.
"They probably went to the fort," my mother says. But I know better. Unlike me, Prim would never leave without telling someone where she was going.
"They were going to collect buffalo chips for the fire," Rory insists.
"Well, I'm going to the fort to look for them," Gale announces.
"No, I'll go to the fort with Peeta to look," I interrupt. "You search our camp and the surrounding camps." All I'm thinking is that Gale can't go to the fort. What if he sees Mr. Snow there?
"You and Peeta just came back from the fort Katniss," says my mother. "Let Gale go."
"But we met the commander today," I tell her. "We know him. Maybe he can authorize some soldiers to help us search for Prim and Posy."
"You met the commander of the entire fort?" My mother is astounded. Then she suddenly turns pale. "Katniss Everdeen did you sneak away and marry Peeta this afternoon?" She glares at him.
"No," we both yell in unison.
Relief floods her face. "Alright you two go to the fort then. The rest of you search the camp and the surrounding area."
She looks at Hazelle. "We'll stay here. Hopefully they'll show up soon."
But they don't show up. Gale and Rory borrow Thom's horses and search the prairie. Peeta and I comb the fort, then return to the campsite to see if the girls are back. They aren't so we return to the fort with Captain Abernathy to talk to the commander. On the way I tell him I about seeing Mr. Snow talking with Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread at the fort last night.
"I warned you sweetheart," he says. "I told you something could happen."
"What's he talking about?" Peeta mouthed.
"I'll tell you later."
The commander seems more interested in our story about the gunpowder keg when Mr. Abernathy tells it. Maybe it's his dramatic way of delivering the information. According to Mr. Abernathy the large quantity was in direct violation of the contract everyone signed prior to beginning the trip. It was a danger to the entire company and led to the death of three men. When Mr. Abernathy mentions the lurid plans he overheard between Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread to force my sister and I into marriage to obtain free land in Oregon, I hear a sharp intake of breath. I glance at Peeta. He is pale and wears a shocked expression.
"We'll send a squad out at dawn to search," the commander finally says. "We'll start with the Indian encampment. They may be hiding there with the girls. They may intend to trade them for supplies."
My heart nearly stops. I am so scared for my sister and Posy.
"Can't the soldiers leave now?" I interrupt.
"It's safer in the morning," the commander says. "Less of a chance for us to be ambushed."
We return to the campfire, hoping against hope that Prim and Posy are tucked in and sleeping. But they are not there. Mr. Abernathy provides a few words of reassurance, then leaves to return to his wagon. Both mothers are near tears. Hazelle clutches at Vick because Gale and Rory still haven't returned from their search of the prairie. Madge makes coffee.
Rye and Delly return to the campfire after going from wagon to wagon to ask if anyone saw the girls during the afternoon.
"Thom's wife needs your help," Delly tells my mother. "It's the baby."
"Oh dear, it's too soon." She jumps up and hurries to the wagon to gather her medical supplies. She returns and asks Delly to lead her to Thom's wagon.
I'm astounded at how quickly my mother throws off her worries to help another. But it's probably good that she has something to distract her. I don't want her to fall back into grief again. Not now.
I leave the campfire and get a quilt from the wagon to put around myself. Even though I drink hot coffee, I'm shivering. I only hope Prim and Posy are warm tonight. Peeta moves closer to me and puts his arm around my shoulder. It's the first time he's ever touched me, but even through the thick cloth of the blanket it feels natural and comforting.
After an hour or so, Gale and Rory return.
"Are they here?" Gale asks.
But he can tell by our faces that they aren't.
"The soldiers at the fort leave at dawn to search for them," I tell him.
"I want to go too," Gale says.
He needs to know what's going on if he joins them. So I tell him that the commander thinks that Mr. Snow and possibly Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread may be involved. The soldiers will check the Indian settlement first.
Gale scowls. He appears ready to strike someone.
"Maybe you should get some sleep so you're rested to go with the soldiers," Madge suggests. She takes his hand and leads him to their wagon.
Everyone but Peeta and I eventually drift away from the campfire and go to bed. I'm exhausted, overwhelmingly sad, and sick at my stomach because of all the coffee I've drunk. Will I ever see my sister again? Tears form at the corner of my eyes and slowly spill down my face.
"You should get some rest," I tell Peeta.
"I can't leave you alone like this." He pulls me closer to his side. Then he puts his hand under my chin and tilts my face towards his and kisses me. For just a moment I forget every thing.
Chapter 6 - Rescue
Gunfire breaks the silence. I must have fallen asleep on Peeta's shoulder because I am leaning against him when I hear the shots. It's still dark. Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Odair go from wagon to wagon to explain that our company will lay over another day due to Prim and Posy's disappearance. They ask for volunteers to participate in the search.
By the time Mr. Abernathy reaches our campfire, Gale is out of the wagon, dressed and carrying his rifle.
"I'm joining the hunt," he says.
Mr. Abernathy nods.
"You were right about Cray and Thread," Mr. Abernathy addresses me. "They left this camp sometime yesterday and haven't returned. Their personal belongings have been stripped from the wagon they shared. Their horses are gone."
"I want to search, too," Peeta says. He stands up slowly, clearly stiff from sitting up all night. "I'll get my rifle." He walks off toward the Mellark wagon.
I also want to go, but I don't dare to suggest it because some people need to stay behind. Loath as I am to think about it, this search party could end up being a war party. In that case, we need good shots to protect the campsite, as well.
Madge hugs Gale good-by. Gale breaks away. "Let's see if we can borrow Thom's horses," he tells Peeta, who has returned.
"Stay strong," Peeta whispers to me as he squeezes my hand. "We'll find them."
Madge sighs and restarts the fire for breakfast. As the early morning light streaks across the sky, Rory and Hazelle come out of the wagon and brush sleep from their eyes.
"Have they left yet? Rory asks.
"Yes," I tell him.
"Maybe I can catch up to them."
"No." Hazelle's voice is firm. "We need you here."
"But I have to go." Rory is near tears.
I know he cares for my sister. He's clearly devastated by the situation.
"Help with the oxen," I tell him. "They need water."
Rory is silent as we walk to the grazing area and lead the oxen in pairs to the river to drink.
"It's all my fault," he despairs, as we stand at the river's edge.
"What are you talking about?"
"Prim, Posy, and I were going to collect buffalo chips, but I couldn't because I had to help Rye instead."
"He had to remove some wagon wheels and he couldn't find Peeta. Delly tried to help instead and Rye had a fit. He said it wasn't safe for her to be lifting anything heavy. So I said I'd help, and told Prim and Posy to collect the chips by themselves."
Now I feel guilty as well, because if Peeta and I hadn't gone to the fort maybe Prim and Posy would still be here. Although if these men are as dangerous as Mr. Abernathy implies, a similar situation likely would have happened at some point on our journey. Now at least, we have the soldiers at the fort to help us.
It's a long day. Those left behind make preparations to leave tomorrow. We too, prepare as if we will take leave, but I know if Prim and Posy are not found, my family and the Hawthornes will leave the company and stay behind at the fort until we find out what happened to them. I think Peeta would stay with us as well, although my mother might object. But I can't imagine him leaving me to continue on with Rye and Delly. I'd miss him if he did, especially after last night. I'm starting to think Madge might be right about us; maybe we are courting.
Around mid-day Thom visits our campfire to pick up my mother's knitting.
"She wants to keep busy while she sits with Leevy," he explains.
I climb into the wagon to pull the brown mitten she is working on out of one of the storage trunks. From inside the wagon, I can hear Hazelle ask him about his wife.
"She went into early labor, but everything has stopped now. We're going to leave the company and stay behind at Fort Laramie until the baby is born."
So at least one wagon is gone from our company now. I hope we won't be joining them.
"Oh Thom, we'll miss you," Hazelle says. She hugs him.
I hand him the knitting project and tell him to let my mother know that Gale and Peeta joined the search with the soldiers. I don't pass along any more of the suspected story because I don't want to upset my mother even more. If it's true, she'll hear about it soon enough.
There have been a couple of buffalo kills by hunters in the company over the past two days. With an abundance of meat available, Sae's son-in-law stops by to invite us to a dinner feast at their campfire. Hazelle is glad for the reprieve from cooking.
"Maybe the girls will be back by then and we'll have a celebration," she says.
"Probably," Madge says. She has been inside her wagon asleep most of the day and has just come out to join us.
"Are you feeling better?" I ask.
"A little," she says. "Do you know where Delly is?"
"No, I haven't seen her at all today."
"I think she's resting, too." Hazelle says.
I wonder why Madge and Delly are so tired. Did they really work that hard yesterday to justify a day in bed?
Later Rory and I lead the oxen down for more water. "When do you think they'll get back," he whines. "That Indian settlement is only a couple of miles away."
I have the same question. Is there a battle going on just a few miles away from us? What could take so long?
We dine at Sae's campfire, along with most of the company. People come up to us and talk about Prim and Posy as if they were dead. It's unsettling. We eat quickly and return to our campfire. As soon as we get back, Delly returns to her wagon. Rye follows.
"Is she all right?" I ask Madge. "I hope it isn't something catching."
Madge turns to Hazelle and they both laugh.
"It's a secret but I'll let you in," Madge whispers. She looks around first to be sure Rory and Vick are out of earshot. "Delly and I are both expecting."
"Now don't tell anyone," she warns. "Only your mother and Hazelle know, and of course Gale and Rye."
I smile and nod my head, but inwardly wonder how this revelation will change the division of labor in our group over the next few months. Two pregnant girls will not make the trip any easier. I think I may be washing my own clothes very shortly.
It's nearly midnight when we hear horses gallop toward the campsite. My mother, who had returned a couple of hours earlier, and I leave the wagon. We strain our eyes in the moonlight hoping for a glimpse of Prim and Posy. The rest of the Hawthornes join us. There are at least ten men on horseback. I see Prim immediately. She sits in front of Peeta on Thom's brown mare. Their blond hair sparkles in the moonlight, like halos around their heads. Gale rides with Posy who slumps over the front of the horse half asleep.
My mother rushes to Prim. Peeta helps my sister down and then dismounts. Rory hurries over. He's desperate to hug Prim, but he can't because my mother won't let go. He settles for a squeeze on her arm, then joins his mother who carries the sleepy Posy.
Peeta appears dead on his feet, like he might fall over from exhaustion. I take his hand to pull him away, but he stops me.
"I have to give the horse some water and return it to Thom," he says thickly.
"Rory can do it," I say. I tap Rory on the shoulder and tell him what to do, before directing Peeta back toward our campfire.
I slow my pace because he is limping. I'm desperate for information. "Where were they?"
"Posy was at the Indian encampment. The commander was right. They traded her for supplies."
"What about Prim?"
He pauses for a moment and looks at me sorrowfully. "They had her with them. We had to chase them down."
I gasp. "What did they do to her? Is she all right?"
"We think so. There was a lady, her name is Joanna, at the encampment who spoke with her. We stopped there on the way back. She said Prim is …fine. She acts fine."
I hope Peeta's right but I'm fearful of the mental state of my sister.
"Where are they now?"
"Snow is dead. Cray and Thread are in the jail at the fort on kidnapping charges."
We are back at the campfire. The others quickly join us. People from surrounding wagons bring food. Gale and Peeta answer questions and eat at the same time. I join my mother and Prim in our wagon.
"What happened?" my mother asks Prim.
Prim's eyes fill with tears. "Posy and I were collecting buffalo chips when Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread told us Katniss was hurt. They said she was accidentally shot. They said they'd take us to her so we got on their horses but they didn't go to the campsite or the fort. Instead they took us to the Indian encampment.
"I fought back, mama. I bit Mr. Cray's arm and scratched his face. I stopped when he slapped me hard."
She takes a deep breath and starts crying so hysterically that she gets the hiccups. Finally after several minutes she calms down enough to continue.
"We spent the night there with a lady named Joanna. She told me she was taken from her family when she was fourteen like me. She married an Indian and had two children. But he died. She stays there because if she leaves she can't take her children. Mr. Odair talked to her for a long time to convince her to come with us. But she said her children were the only thing she has left in the world and she will not leave them."
Prim stops talking, so my mother assumes this was the end of the story. But I know more from my talk with Peeta.
"What happened this morning little duck? Did you leave with the men?"
My mother gasps at the obvious implications of such an event.
"Yes…" My sister seems unsure of how to continue. I think she doesn't want to upset my mother any more.
"Did they touch you Prim?" I hear the panic in her voice.
"No, mama. I rode with Mr. Cray on his horse. We stopped for lunch. He gave me liquor to drink, but I poured in on the ground. Mr. Cray was angry. He yelled at me. That's when Peeta and the soldiers arrived."
"How did they stop the men Prim?" I ask.
"Someone shot Mr. Snow."
"Snow was there?" my mother interrupts.
"He met Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread at the encampment."
"Is he dead now?" my mother questions.
"Good." My mother's fury reminds me Gale's. I only saw her grief in reacting to my father's death; I never realized the extent of her rage at Snow.
"Some of the soldiers tied up Mr. Cray and Mr. Thread and took them to the jail in the fort. Then I rode with Peeta and the others back to the encampment. We had to return the supplies to get Posy back."
"Are you hungry child?" my mother interrupts. I think that's all the information my mother wants to hear right now. Later she'll talk to Hazelle to hear Posy's version of the events, then she'll grill Gale and Peeta. But this very moment she is happy to have Prim with us safe and sound. We both are.
Chapter 7 – The Storm
Because of the late-night arrival of the rescue party, our company leaves at noon. After the excitement of the past couple of days, life on the road seems mundane, but as each day passes we are happier to put some distance between our wagon train and the happenings at Fort Laramie.
Independence Rock is the next big landmark ahead. We will reach it in two weeks if keep at a regular pace.
After all my mother's efforts to encourage a match between Peeta and me she seems to have experienced a change of heart. She wants to cool things down between us. It's ironic she'd do this now, especially since things have taken a decidedly warmer turn.
But she's not in a hurry for me to get married any time soon. In my mother's mind, marriage leads to pregnancy and if I were pregnant too, it could spell disaster for our traveling group.
Madge and Delly's secret is obvious to everyone now. Not because of changes in appearance, but because it's increasingly clear that they can't fulfill their work duties. Both of them are experiencing severe morning sickness, which keeps them inside their wagons during the mid-day break. While my mother believes the morning sickness will ease up shortly, the simple fact is that a large portion of their job involves lifting heavy buckets of water used for washing and cooking. My mother, Hazelle, Prim, and I take on their chores as well. Perhaps when they are feeling better they can take over the cooking. At least Madge can.
So my mother discourages me from being alone with Peeta. Because the other couples have stopped pretending to walk at night, she insists Vick and Posy chaperone us.
But her plan backfires because I see a new side of Peeta when we take Vick and Posy onto the prairie. He is patient and kind with them. He jokes with them. I think he will be a good father. I know he will make a fine uncle to Rye and Delly's child.
My mother wages a losing battle on a second front, as well, as she works to keep Prim and Rory apart. She only recently realized how close the two had grown.
"You're not getting married before Katniss," she warns Prim. "You're only fourteen years old."
"Juliette got married when she was fourteen," Prim sasses back.
"At least Romeo was seventeen. Rory is only fourteen," I remind her. "And that relationship didn't end well little duck."
My mother must speak to Hazelle about it, because Gale takes Rory for a walk that evening. When they return, Rory is downcast. He avoids my sister for the next several days before resuming his usual solicitous behavior toward her.
Keeping watch over Prim and Rory is another chore I add to my list of things to do on our journey to Oregon.
Up until now the weather has been mild. Little rain or wind. Cool mornings and evenings, hot afternoons. This morning we wake up to dark skies. The day is dreary.
We stop early this evening because Captain Abernathy says a storm is brewing. "Better sleep inside. Storms on the plains can be dangerous."
"Will you stay in the wagon with Rye and Delly?" I ask Peeta over dinner.
He rolls his eyes. "No. I have a small tent. I'll set it up."
Vick helps Peeta stake the tent into the ground. Because of the evening walks, Vick has become quite attached to Peeta.
"You're so lucky. I wish I could sleep in a tent." Vick is clearly jealous.
"Well you can stay with me if it's alright with your mother," Peeta says.
Hazelle frowns when Vick asks, but finally relents when Peeta says he'll bring Vick back to the wagon if the storm gets too strong.
Vick grabs a quilt and sets it inside the tent.
We don't walk tonight. Everyone retires early. A light rain falls. Within minutes of entering our wagon, we hear a knock on its wooden side.
"My wife is in labor," a man calls. "Can you come with me now."
My mother peeks her head out from the wagon flap.
"My name is Robert Jedson," he introduces himself. "Thom and Leevy told my wife Mary that you could deliver the baby when it's time."
My mother nods. I can tell she doesn't want to leave us with a storm coming, but she's compelled to help the man. She grabs her supplies.
"Go to Hazelle's wagon, if there are any problems here," she says before leaving.
After she goes, Prim and I sit in the darkness wrapped in our quilts. The wind makes our canvas roof shudder.
"Are you glad we decided to go to Oregon?" Prim questions.
"I don't know. If we stayed home, Father would still be alive," I say.
"But you wouldn't have become friends with Peeta."
"I might have. He only came on the journey because of me," I admit. "He told me so."
"Oh. He likes you a lot. Are you going to marry him?"
"I don't know little duck."
"I like him too. You know he shot Mr. Snow."
At that moment lightening strikes somewhere close. For a moment the wagon is lit up like it is the middle of the day. A few moments later we hear the thunder boom.
"Prim you never told us Peeta shot Mr. Snow," I accuse. "What happened?"
"When Peeta and the soldiers found me there was a gun battle. Mr. Snow tried to drag me away on his horse, so Peeta shot him."
Another flash of lightening and I see Prim for a moment. Her eyes are somewhere else; she relives the moment.
A thunderclap sounds. It is even louder than before. The rain comes down harder.
"Peeta got sick afterwards. He threw up. He gave the commander his rifle and said he could keep it."
I remember back to that night. Peeta didn't have his rifle with him when he returned. I'd been too excited about seeing Prim and too eager to hear what had happened that I hadn't realized his rifle was missing.
"Why didn't Gale say something? I mutter.
"He doesn't know. He wasn't there. He stayed back at the encampment with Posy."
Still more lightening strikes. The wind gusts fiercely. There is a scream and a flapping sound, but I think it is the wind.
"Did Peeta ask you not to tell us?"
"No, but I don't think he wants everyone to know. I think he feels bad about it."
I'd guess he is torn up inside. He came on this trip to woo me, not kill someone. "Let's not tell anyone else this story," I whisper.
"All right." Prim is relieved.
We freeze as we hear loud pounding against the side of our wagon.
"Can we come in? The tent blew away."
I open the back flap of our wagon. It is dark, but I recognize Peeta's voice. He doesn't wait for an answer, but pushes his way in. I scoot back quickly. He is wet and dripping. A second figure follows him.
"Close the flap," I shout when they're both inside. Wind is pushing rain into our wagon. Our dry haven is getting soggy fast.
Another flash of lightening illuminates our cab and I see that the second figure is Rory, not Vick.
Both are drenched. Their hair is plastered down along the sides of their heads. It is long and they both need haircuts. They appear exhilarated, as if the storm has stirred up something primal inside them. Before the light fades I glance at Prim. Her face is moony with delight.
Oh no, my mother will kill us when she finds out about this.
The cab grows dark again.
"Where's Vick?" I ask.
Peter laughs. "He lasted about five minutes before he asked to go back to the wagon. So I traded him for Rory."
Overhead is a loud boom. It sounds like it is directly over our camp. There is some movement in the wagon. I think Rory scoots over to sit by Prim. Peeta moves closer to me and leans his back against the side of the cab.
"Peeta, did your tent really blow away?" Prim asks.
"Well one side got detached and I couldn't get it to stay down. We were getting so wet we decided to come here."
"Why here?" I ask.
"We saw your mother leave," Rory admits. "We knew you had the most room. The canvas top ripped on my mother's wagon. She took Vick and Posy to Gale and Madge's wagon."
"What about Rye and Delly's wagon?"
Peeta snorts. "I don't think we have any interest in going there."
More lightening. I see we are paired up now. Each boy has found his way to his girl's side.
I startle when the thunderclap follows. Peeta's arm goes around my waist. He pulls me closer. His hot breath is on my neck. It would be so easy to get lost in this moment, but I can't stop thinking of Prim and Rory who are sitting in the dark across from us.
I pull away from Peeta.
"Maybe we should check on the oxen," I suggest. "They are probably going crazy in this storm."
"It's not safe to be outside," Peeta advises. "Someone could get killed if there is a stampede. We'll have deal with the consequences in the morning."
Yes we will, I think, as Peeta nuzzles my neck.
No one speaks. I can only guess at what Prim and Rory are doing, but because of the darkness I can't see anything until the lightening brightens the cabin. At the first strike I see that Rory's arm is around Prim. She is leaning against him, with her head on his shoulder. Her eyes are closed.
I miss the next few strikes because Peeta is kissing me. I can only hope Prim's eyes are still closed. We break away before the next strike to see Prim and Rory kissing.
My little sister is kissing Rory!
In the dark I kick at Prim's leg. The pair must break apart because I hear Prim.
"Ouch. Stop it Katniss."
I turn to Peeta. "It was a really bad idea for you two to come into our wagon."
"Why is that?" Peeta argues. "The way I see it Rory and Prim are our chaperones and we are theirs.
I don't think my mother will agree with that reasoning.
"Prim and I are going to get into all sorts of trouble when our mother finds out."
"Do you want us to go? Peeta is angry.
The problem is I don't know where Peeta can go. Rory could join his family in Gale and Madge's wagon, but Peeta will be an intrusion into Rye and Delly's wagon. That's why he set up the tent in the first place.
The storm is lessening. There are fewer lightening strikes and the thunder sounds farther away. But the rain is still falling hard and it is pitch black inside the wagon.
"No," I finally say. "You can both stay. But maybe we should talk or something. No more kissing, Prim."
"We weren't the only ones," Prim says. "I saw you and Peeta."
"Let's talk about something different little duck."
"How about why your mother is keeping us apart?" Peeta suggests. "I'm never alone with you anymore Katniss. I don't like it."
I don't want to have this conversation in front of Prim and Rory. I stop it the only way I know how.
"I don't either," I murmur, as I pull his face toward mine.
After a minute, when there is no further conversation, Prim whispers. "Katniss, are you kissing Peeta?"
I wake up to the usual sound of gunshots. I am slumped against Peeta who is sleeping in an upright position leaning against the side of the wagon. In the faint light, I see my sister draped across Rory's legs.
"Wake up," I hiss. We agree that Prim and I should exit the wagon first and create some kind of diversion so that Peeta and Rory can slip out. Maybe, then, no one will find out we were all in the same wagon last night.
But Hazelle, has already figured things out. She found Peeta's bedraggled tent empty and went in search of Rory. As soon as Prim and I leave the wagon she is standing there to confront us.
"Did Rory spend the night in your wagon?"
It's pointless to lie to Hazelle because she can simply open the flap and see Rory for herself.
"Yes, he did," I admit.
Rory hears us and climbs out. Peeta follows him.
"Your poor mother," Hazelle mutters. "It must have been some night."
Wait until she finds out my mother wasn't there. What kind of night will she think it was then?
None of us correct her. We all separate immediately and begin cleaning up the mess the storm left behind.
Captain Abernathy and Mr. Odair go from wagon to wagon to tell everyone that today will be a clean up day. No traveling. The Everdeen wagon is one of the few that didn't sustain damage.
Cinna comes by to mend a large rip in the canvas top of Hazelle's wagon. My mother arrives home as he works. It doesn't take long before she and Hazelle compare notes about the storm.
She comes looking for Prim and me. She orders us into the wagon. Her face is drawn. She is exhausted after staying awake all night to deliver a baby.
She is so furious that she is near tears. She yells for a long time before telling us to leave the wagon. She's tired and needs to sleep. She hand us the quilts that are dirty and wet from the mud Peeta and Rory tracked in last night.
Prim and I slink out. We avoid Hazelle's glare as we head toward the river. Cinna raises his head from his sewing and thoughtfully studies us. I blush knowing he likely heard everything my mother said. She was that loud.
Late in the afternoon, I stand at the river's edge as Clove and Cato drink. I hear whistling and turn to see Peeta lead a pair of Rye's oxen to the water.
"My mother found out," I confront him. "She's angry. I could get in trouble for even talking with you right now."
"You were right, it was a bad idea," he admits. "But I can't say I'm sorry I did it." He smirks, before turning serious. "I really had no idea Prim and Rory were so…interested in each other. They're awfully young.
"We've been trying to keep them apart," I explain. "Last night only makes things worse."
"That's what Gale said, so I talked with your mother. Everything's fine now, for you at least. Prim may still be in hot water."
"What could you possibly say to my mother that would make everything fine?"
He grins, but doesn't answer and I'm left wondering.
Chapter 8 – Independence Rock
We are in sight of Independence Rock when our wagon train stops for the day to celebrate the Fourth of July. From a distance it looks like an enormous turtle sitting on the prairie. It's made of granite and travelers on the trail sign or carve their names on to it.
I want to carve my father's name onto the rock. He doesn't have a gravestone and I want him to be remembered. We hurry with the chores this morning so we can leave early. It's difficult to judge the distance of the rock from our campsite but it looks to be walk of only a few miles. Peeta and I are going with Gale and Madge, and Rye and Delly. Both girls are feeling much better and are eager for a chance to stretch their legs after riding in the wagon for so long. I bring my father's awl for carving.
We walk for nearly an hour and take a short break. The rock still appears far off in the distance. We walk another hour. It doesn't look much closer.
The group stops to talk.
"I don't think we can make it on foot," Rye says. "It's too far away."
"It looks a bit closer," Delly reassures.
"Not much," Rye continues. "Once we get there we still have to walk back. I don't think you should walk that far Delly."
"I don't think I want to," she admits.
"I have to agree," Gale says. "Maybe we should turn back. What do you say Madge?"
"It's fine with me. I'm already tired." She rubs at the small of her back.
"I want to go on," I announce. I glance at Peeta. He doesn't appear tired at all. "I want to put my father's name on that rock."
"Maybe we should separate here," Peeta suggests.
The others frown, but then Rye pulls a compass out of his pocket.
"Take this so you don't get lost getting back to camp." He goes over the coordinates with Peeta.
Madge gives me the satchel of food Hazelle packed.
"Don't do anything stupid," Gale warns as the two couples turn to go back to the campsite. "Leave yourself plenty of time to get back before it's dark."
"We're finally alone," I say a few minutes later when the others are out of hearing range. It is a delicious sensation. It is a warm day, but a slight breeze prevails.
Peeta grabs my hand and we walk toward Independence Rock.
About thirty minutes later, we see a wagon train parked directly ahead of us. From this far-off distance, the white canvas tops on the circle of wagons resemble the sails of ships.
As we get closer, Peeta stops and turns toward me.
"If anyone asks, let's say we're married," he urges. "We'll be safer that way. And stay by my side. Don't let anyone separate us."
I'm startled by his request, but I as think back to our adventures on this journey so far, I have to admit it might be a good idea.
"All right." I squeeze his hand in agreement.
We attempt to skirt the perimeter of the camp, but are quickly stopped by a thin, dark-haired man coming out of a tent pitched nearby.
"Who are you?" he calls out. He doesn't sound angry, but merely curious about seeing strangers in the middle of the prairie.
"I'm Peeta Mellark and this is my wife Katniss. We're walking to Independence Rock." He waves his hand toward the imposing structure. "But it's a lot farther than we thought. We've been walking almost three hours now."
"The man laughs. "It is deceiving how close it looks." He comes forward to shake Peeta's hand. "I'm Elisha Coldwell," he says. "Some of our party will head out there shortly on horseback. There are extra horses. Maybe you could join them."
"That would be great," Peeta agrees.
Mr. Coldwell leads us to a grazing area where some people are saddling up horses. He introduces us to gray-haired Zeke Edwards, who offers to loan us a horse to ride.
"Your timing is fortuitous," he says. "We're leaving in a few minutes."
He points out several other people who will be going out to the rock. "These are my children."
Most are young, maybe our age or a bit younger.
I guess he's speaking figuratively because there are twelve of them and they are too close in age to be in a single family.
Some of the girls in the group notice Peeta immediately and are a little too obvious in their glances toward him. I'm glad Peeta introduced us as a married couple because I don't like the long stares they give him. If he notices, however, he ignores them.
Peeta and I ride together on the mare Zeke calls Nauvoo.
"Where is your train headed?" Zeke asks us.
"Oregon," Peeta tells him.
"We're going to Utah," Zeke says. "It's a place of great promise. A young man like yourself could do quite well there."
Peeta laughs. "We hear the same of Oregon."
We ride for almost nearly two hours by horseback until we reach the rock. It is a strange and amazing sight. So many names are carved or painted on every surface of it. I walk along the side of it in awe. I could spend all day studying it, but our time is limited. I climb up onto the rock and look for a clear space to carve my father's name. It is difficult work with the awl. Peeta and I take turns forming the letters because it hurts my hands to carve into hard stone. Finally we finish. I have tears in my eyes as I rub my fingers across his name. Peeta takes my hand and helps me down to the ground.
I have never mourned my father's death properly and the impact of leaving a permanent record of his existence on the trail affects me deeply. I am teary-eyed the entire ride back to the wagon camp. When we arrive, Zeke invites Peeta and I to stay for dinner.
"It's a real feast for the Fourth," he says. "Buffalo steaks, cornbread, beans, apple pie and lemonade."
We thank him but refuse the offer.
"We have a long walk and we need to get back before dark," Peeta explains. "Our train leaves at dawn."
"Spend the night here and we'll use the horses to get you and your wife back to your camp by dawn," Zeke insists.
I shudder. No, that's definitely not a good idea because everyone thinks we're married.
After many minutes of Zeke's insistent urgings to stay and Peeta's polite refusals, we finally say our goodbyes and wish Zeke and the others in his party a safe journey.
Peeta fishes the compass from his pocket, checks the coordinates and we begin the walk back to our wagon.
I pull some pilot bread out of the satchel I've been carrying and give some to Peeta.
"We were really lucky to find them," I say. "Otherwise, we would have had to walk all day and night to get to Independence Rock and back to camp."
Peeta nods, as he chews the hard bread.
I hand him another piece.
"Why did you tell them we were married?" I'm curious.
"It was something I heard the soldiers talking about when we went looking for Prim and Posy. They said a wagon train of emigrants headed for Utah had recently passed through. They have some practices that are different from most people. They practice polygamy. I thought it would be safer for you if they thought we were married."
"Oh… Does Zeke…?"
"Yes. When we first got to the rock and you were looking at the names, he told me he had four wives."
"Then they really were all his children."
I pass him some dried fruit from the bag. "Do you think you would like four wives?" I tease.
I don't expect an answer. I'm think he'll make a joke. But instead he grows serious.
"I only want one wife, Katniss. I want you."
My heart pounds so loudly I can hear it in my ears. I glance quickly at him, before my eyes flit away. Is this a proposal? Or is he merely answering my question?
As I think on it more, I decide it's another declaration of his feelings toward me, like when we took our first walk together. Except this time, instead of being shocked, I'm excited.
I grab Peeta's hand and we walk in silence the rest of the way. When we come in sight of our wagon train, I turn and kiss his cheek.
"Thank you." It's hard for me to put into words exactly what I mean, but this day has been nearly perfect. I never could have journeyed to Independence Rock and carved my father's name onto it without Peeta's help.
"I wanted to do this for my father," I try to explain. "Without you, well, it wouldn't have happened."
He nods. I think he wants to say something more, but he doesn't.
We arrive back at our camp as the sun is setting. The day-long celebration for the holiday is winding down and people go back to their wagons. Everyone in our group sits around our fire when we walk up.
"Timed your return to the last possible moment," Gale says. He smirks at us. "Did you even make it to the Rock?"
"Yes." I ignore the insinuation in his comment because I'm not in the mood to argue. I am relaxed and strangely exhilarated all at the same time.
I describe our encounter with the other wagon train and the loan of a horse that made the journey possible. I describe the amazing rock that features the names of so many travelers on the trail. I tell about the difficulty of carving Father's name onto it.
I leave out the part about our pretend marriage and Zeke's four wives. I don't have to share everything.
The road turns hilly and sandy. Instead of our usual fifteen miles a day, we travel at a slower pace. The landscape we pass through changes. The plains give way to large, rocky bluffs. Our wagons roll past Devil's Gate, a deeply-cut natural canyon on the Sweetwater River as we head toward the Rocky Mountains. We travel for several days, crossing and re-crossing the shallow Sweetwater River until we reach South Pass, which will be our route across the Rocky Mountains. A number of small trading posts are established along the Sweetwater River. Our train briefly stops at a few, but prices are exorbitant.
Along the way, we pass other wagon trains that are halted because of needed repair to wagons or sickness to livestock or people. One morning I find that Glimmer's foot has somehow become injured during the night. She is crippled.
I panic. What are we going to do? Neither the Hawthornes, nor the Mellarks have a spare ox to join Cato, Clove and Marvel in pulling our wagon. I am near tears as I look for Captain Abernathy. With his help, I am able to work out a deal with Mr. Jedson to borrow his extra ox called Brutus until another ox can be purchased at one of the trading posts along the Sweetwater.
I shoot and butcher Glimmer before our train leaves for the day. Half the camp feasts on Glimmer's flesh that evening. The next morning I am able to purchase a new ox called Thresh at an outpost. The trader there drives a hard bargain, though. I end up paying not only in coin, but in goods as well. My mother generously offers to give up her flowered china tea set that has been hidden among the linens in one of the trunks in our wagon. I know it is a favorite of hers, but she realizes we have no choice. We can't stop here. We have to get to Oregon.
Chapter 9 – Heart-to-Heart
Our company reaches the half-way point of our journey when we stop mid-day at the entrance to South Pass. The landmark lacks any distinguishing feature, but we are all strangely excited to have gotten so far.
I am inside our wagon eating cornbread, when Delly bangs on the side.
"Where's your mother? Rye and Peeta are sick."
"She's with Hazelle."
I shove the remainder of the cornbread into my mouth, then hurry after her.
I follow my mother and Delly back to the Mellark's wagon. Peeta is sitting on the ground, his head in his hands.
"I have the worst headache," he tells my mother. "I'm dizzy too. I think I need to lie down for a while."
He tries to stand up, but nearly falls over. My mother and I catch at him and help him climb up into the wagon. Rye lies stretched out inside. He is having trouble breathing and keeps pressing his hands against the side of his face.
"My head hurts so bad," Rye complains.
My mother frowns. "Delly, get them both water."
My mother determines Rye and Peeta have altitude sickness. Even though the road we travel appears level, we have been gradually climbing higher without realizing it. There is no real cure for it, except to travel to a lower elevation. Drinking extra water, however, will ease the symptoms.
Neither Rye nor Peeta are in any condition to drive their wagon this afternoon and Delly has no experience. Hazelle volunteers Rory, while she takes over as driver of the Hawthorne's second wagon.
Two more people come searching for my mother. It seems there are others in the company suffering from the same malady. She encourages them to drink plenty of water and lie down in their wagons. My mother finds Captain Abernathy and informs him of the illnesses.
"We've got to move to a lower elevation, or they won't get better," he says.
The trumpet sounds and we set off for our afternoon jaunt. The route descends downward for the next several miles. We stop for the evening in a relatively flat and sparse sagebrush plain. Peeta and Rye are much better this evening. Both are able to leave the wagon and eat dinner. Peeta even sets up his tent.
Madge asks me to stay with her tonight. Gale has guard duty and she doesn't want to be alone. I agree. Peeta is tired and retires to his tent after he's finished dinner so I have no other plans. I carry my quilt over to her wagon and we turn in early, even though it is still light.
Madge sits inside and knits. She shows me a tiny sweater she has already made. At present she works on booties.
"Where did you get the yarn?" It's a dark blue color.
"Hazelle gave me a sweater that she made for Gale's father a long time ago. I unraveled it. I think it brings comfort to her and Gale to know that the baby will be wrapped in the same fibers that kept him warm."
I nod. What a clever way to keep the memory of Mr. Hawthorne alive and tie him to his first grandchild.
"I need to keep at it though," Madge adds. "I only have five months before the baby is here. And so much will happen between now and then."
She pauses and looks up from her knitting. "Katniss, have you thought any more on your future when we reach Oregon."
I shake my head. My thoughts have been so jumbled lately. Unlike Madge who is merely a participant in the Hawthorne family's travel party, I am the one acting as the head of the Everdeen household. My mother is more of a figurehead. I'm the only one who worries about the health of the oxen and the physical condition of our wagon. I hitch it up and drive it every day. I keep track of Prim's whereabouts. My mother has lately been serving more and more as the company's doctor. She's not always around to help.
On top of all of this, I find myself daily growing more attached to Peeta. When we started this trip I barely knew him, but now I feel as if I've always known him. It doesn't make any sense.
"I know you aren't happy about my matchmaking but it seems to have worked out," she says. "Gale told me to stay out of it, but I insisted on it."
What? Was Madge behind everything?
"What do you mean?"
"The evening of the funeral, when everyone from the company came to visit with us, Peeta spoke privately with me. He said that he had talked with your father the previous night and had asked for permission to court you. Your father had agreed on the condition that he speak with you and your mother first. But Peeta knew your father never got that chance. He asked me what he should do."
A memory floats into my mind, forgotten because of everything else that had happened since them. I see my father leaving our campfire to go to guard duty. Peeta approaches him. They stop and speak for a few minutes. It looks like a serious conversation. My father shakes Peeta's hand. Now I know what that was about.
I am astonished. "Why didn't Peeta tell me?"
"I think he didn't want to play on your emotions. He didn't want you to feel compelled to favor him simply because your father had given his consent."
"Oh." That sounds exactly like Peeta.
I have to ask. "Does my mother know about my father's consent?"
"She didn't at first, but I believe Peeta has since spoken with her about it."
"Were you behind the Mellarks joining our traveling party, too?"
"Yes," she laughs. "I encouraged Gale to consider asking them to join our group. It made sense to ease all of our workloads with the added benefit that you would have a chance to get to know Peeta better."
I am mortified about all the behind-the-scene maneuvers to pair me up with Peeta. I feel like a pawn in a game. Madge notes the humiliation on my face and gently places one of her hands on mine.
"Everything was done out of love Katniss. I'm sorry that it felt otherwise, but you are my friend and I want you to be happy. I've always felt a tad guilty over snatching Gale away from you."
My face is hot. "I never….I've always thought of him as a brother."
"You're such a bad liar Katniss. You forget I've been your friend for a long, long time. But now you have Peeta and we can both be happy."
The next evening Captain Abernathy calls a company meeting after dinner.
"We need to take a vote," he tells us. "Shortly we'll come upon a parting of the ways – the Sublette Cutoff. One path will shorten our journey by seventy miles or so. However, it's dangerous because there is no water available for the first fifty miles and the last fifty includes many steep ascents and descents over difficult terrain. Finnick assures me that we can make it, however, it will require some sacrifices on your part. The second path is longer, but it will pass by Fort Bridger, which will allow all of you the chance to restock your supplies. Talk about it tonight amongst yourselves and we will vote in the morning."
We go back to the campfire. Only the men in the party are eligible to vote, but Hazelle attempts to sway their decision.
"Why put ourselves through danger to shorten the trip by less than a week," Hazelle persuades. "If we take the shorter route we'll also miss going to the fort."
"Are we running low on our food stocks?" Gale questions.
"No," his mother admits.
We have extra food because of the two deaths early in our trip. In fact, our party has probably eaten better than most because of the occasional fresh meat Gale and I have shot along the way and the baked goods Peeta has provided.
"I think we should take the shorter route," Gale argues. "The sooner we get to Oregon, the better."
Rye agrees, "We have been passed by many other wagon trains on this trip. I think we should take the shortcut. Getting there a week earlier could make a difference in the quality of the land we are able to obtain."
I find myself agreeing with Hazelle. I'm eager to end the constant traveling, but I don't want to risk any extra hardship, even if it means a week more of travel. I think the other women share my opinion.
Peeta doesn't say anything.
The vote the next morning leans heavily toward taking the shorter route. None of the women in our group says anything, but I can tell by their pursed lips and furrowed brows that they are worried about the hardships we might face. Before we leave that morning, we fill every container we have with extra water.
The terrain we travel this morning is flat and arid. But it is very windy and dust flies in our faces. My mother spends the mid-day break visiting people who complain about the sand in their eyes. The afternoon is hot, and I am miserable as I drive our wagon. My skin is dry and dirty. In the evening, the cattle must be driven nearly three miles away to graze. Fortunately men on horseback do it, so I'm given a reprieve.
After dinner, Captain Abernathy and Mr. Odair visit each wagon to tell us that we will be breaking camp tomorrow morning at 2 a.m. to avoid the heat. Everyone goes to bed immediately. Peeta has guard duty, however, so his day continues.
Gunfire awakes us at 1 a.m. Most of us have had less than five hours sleep. The cattle are herded back to the wagons, I hitch up Cato, Clove, Marvel, and Thresh, and we start our day. The wagons travel side-by-side today instead of single file to lessen the dust that was kicked up yesterday. Some men and boys walk in front with lanterns to help us see in the darkness. Fortunately the moon is nearly full, casting a golden glow over the landscape.
Prim and my mother continue to sleep inside the wagon for a few more hours, as do the other women. Peeta is exhausted because he has not slept since the previous morning, however he has nowhere to sleep because every wagon in our group has a woman sleeping in it. He is too tired to walk so he climbs up onto the bench on our wagon and sits next to me as I drive.
"Sorry you voted for the shortcut?" I ask him, as he yawns.
"I didn't vote for it. I wanted to go to Fort Bridger." He sighs. "But there's always Fort Hall."
"What's at the forts?"
"Someone who can marry us. I want to marry you Katniss."
I have to wonder for a moment if this is a dream, after all I've never driven the wagon in the middle of the night. I've never driven with Peeta by my side. But the pressure of his arm around me is real. I bite the inside of my cheek. It hurts. I blink several times. I'm fairly certain I'm awake.
"Aren't you supposed to ask me first?" I whisper. "I might say no."
In the moonlight a smile begins to form at the corners of his lips. He takes a deep breath before he speaks. "Katniss, I remember our first day at school. You were wearing a red dress and had two braids. You stood up on the platform and sang to the entire school. I fell in love with you that day and have loved you ever since. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?
I mouth "yes." He pulls me closer to his side. I turn my head to quickly to kiss his lips. It's a short and sweet kiss because, unfortunately, kissing and driving a wagon don't mix.
A minute later, from inside the wagon, Prim's shrill voice calls out, "Katniss, did you say yes?"
Peeta and I laugh.
"I did little duck," I call back to her.
She pops her head out of the flap and smiles at us. "Oh, I'm so glad. Once you're married, it will be my turn."
We stop the wagons around 8 a.m for a break. My mother wakes before then, and Peeta and I tell her the news. She seems pleased, but suggests we wait to get married in Oregon rather than at Fort Hall. Peeta ignores her opinion and I wonder if this is going to become a problem.
We're grinning ear-to-ear as we tell the others in our party. Everyone else is excited for us.
"I always wanted a sister," Delly says as she hugs me, her expanding midriff area bumping me ever so gently.
Madge beams. "I'm as happy as if it were happening to me," she whispers.
Before our company leaves, Peeta climbs in the back of his brother's wagon to get some needed sleep.
The heat descends on us like a heavy blanket as the morning progresses. Our wagon train stops around 1 p.m. I am sweaty and tired, but happy too.
The oxen must again be driven away for grazing. Hazelle and my mother pull out some cold food for a meal. It's too hot to start a fire.
Peeta climbs out of the wagon, his skin flushed. "I think I fell asleep in an oven," he tells me. "And I had the strangest dream Katniss - that we had gotten engaged."
For a brief moment a wave of panic sweeps over me. "It wasn't a dream," I insist. "We did".
Peeta laughs at my reaction. "I know. It's just that I wanted this for so long it seems like a dream to me."
Captain Abernathy and Mr. Odair visit all the wagons and tell us that we will break camp at 10 p.m. that evening. It is too hot to do much during the rest of the day. I am tired so I climb into our wagon to rest. I take off my dress to sleep in my underclothes. Just as I'm ready to doze off, my mother enters the wagon. She wants to talk.
"I know you're very happy today, Katniss and that you don't want to wait to get married," my mother says. "But think things through clearly. Peeta doesn't have a wagon of his own. If you marry him on the trail, you'll be living in a small tent with him for the remainder of the trip. It won't provide the privacy you'll want being newly wed."
I can't believe that I was so swept away in the moment that I didn't think of this myself. "I'll talk to Peeta, "I tell her before falling asleep.
Chapter 10 - Preparations
I wake up around 8 p.m. I am sticky. I want to take a sponge bath to wash the sweat off of me, but the water in the barrel is needed for drinking. I compromise by dipping a cloth into the water and wiping it across face and neck. I get dressed and go outside to eat something before hitching up the wagon. Because of our strange travel hours everyone in our party seems to be following a different schedule. For those of us who drive the wagons, it is our morning. For the others, it is night.
We end up starting after 10 p.m. tonight because two oxen have died and their drivers are without spares. No one who has extra oxen is willing to loan them one. The two drivers end up helping each other. With six oxen between them, the wagon with the lighter load only hitches up two oxen. The other driver takes his spare. Then the first driver unloads many items from his wagon into the wagon of the other driver. However, several items get tossed along the side of the road, including a small pipe organ.
"The weight of that organ is probably what killed his ox," Gale says. "I'm glad I didn't let Madge talk me into taking her piano."
I agree, but the situation worries me. I've already experienced the loss of an ox. I don't want it to happen again. I eye the contents of our wagon carefully, but at this point I don't see anything we have that is unnecessary weight.
Peeta drives his brother's wagon tonight. Since we are driving the wagons side-by-side again, I can watch him out of the corner of my eye as I drive. He looks so handsome as he drives the team of oxen in the moonlight. I can't figure out why it took me so long to realize that Peeta is attractive. He looked rather ordinary to me when we were in school together. He turns his head slightly and smiles at me. My breath catches. Is it because I love him now that his appearance seems so changed?
I think about my mother's suggestion. Even though it's a delicate topic I must talk to Peeta about this before we make any further wedding plans. This journey has tested all of because of a lack of privacy. It's rare that anyone is alone. We are living in such close quarters with our neighbors that everyone knows the others' business.
Likewise, in this setting, it's easy to forgo modesty and appearance. My mother has insisted that Prim and I keep as clean, well-groomed, and lady-like as possible. It has required extra effort to do so. Many in our company have not made that effort and have a disheveled appearance. A couple of women in the company have taken to wearing their husband's trousers instead of their long skirts. It makes it easier for them cook safely over the campfire. My mother would never allow that. Many of the men have stopped shaving and sport long beards that have become somewhat matted. I'm glad Peeta remains clean-shaven, as does his brother and Gale.
If I'm married on the trail, I hope will my mother will still allow me use our wagon to dress and wash myself. I don't think I can do it in a small tent.
We stop the wagons briefly at sunrise so everyone can get some food. I am stiff and tired. Peeta offers to drive our wagon. He says Rye can drive theirs. I agree. It would give me an opportunity to talk with him alone, since Prim and my mother will be walking this next stretch of road.
I sit next to Peeta on the bench in the exact place he was sitting yesterday when he proposed marriage to me. I can't believe it's only been a day ago. It seems much longer, but I think I'm getting mixed up because my days and nights are turned around.
I try to think of the right words to tell him it might be better to wait until we get to Oregon to be married, but I can't figure out what to say, without it sounding like a rejection. My face is warm with embarrassment when I finally blurt out, "can we both fit into your tent?"
He looks startled. "Why do you ask?"
"Because if we get married at Fort Hall, we'll be living in your tent for nearly two more months. How exactly is that going to work?"
"The same way it works now, except you'll be in the tent with me at night."
"But isn't it kind of small?"
"But is it private?"
"The flap closes, so yes it's private. He laughs. "We can always borrow my brother's wagon if we need more privacy."
Now I'm completely red.
"Is this your concern or your mother's?" he finally asks.
I don't want to bring my mother into this conversation. "Just wondering," I mutter.
"Look, why don't you visit the tent the next time I set it up so you can see it for yourself."
That seems like a good solution. I relax against him.
Our pattern of journeying in the late evening and early morning hours ends a few days later. The oxen must smell the water, because all of them pick up their pace. Finally it becomes clear that it will be unsafe for the wagons if the oxen continue to be remain hitched. We stop and unhitch them a mile from Green River. They run frantically toward it to drink.
We chase after them on foot. Once they quench their thirst, we return them to the wagons and hitch them up to pull us closer to the water as well. It is late morning and Captain Abernathy tells us we will rest for the remainder of the day. When we break camp at dawn the next morning we must cross the river in front of us.
With such a good water source nearby, our group settles in to do laundry, bathe, and cook a large meal. Everyone is in good spirits to be finished with the desert-like stretch of road. Peeta sets up his tent for the first time since we talked. When it is up, he finds me at the river where I'm doing laundry and asks me to come and see it. I rinse the soap from the wet clothes and take them back to the wagon to dry before joining him at the tent. I've only looked inside of it once before, but never with the thought that I might be staying in it. Now I want to study it more carefully. I peer inside the entrance. The roof is too low to stand in it.
"Go inside," Peeta urges. "See for yourself."
I stoop down and crawl into the entrance. It's like a small cave inside. The sunlight coming through the brown canvas fills the inside with a golden glow. I turn around and lay down on the ground with my head towards the entrance.
"You should come in too," I say. "We need to see if we can both fit in here."
With a quick glance around to be sure no one is watching, Peeta crawls into the tent and closes the flap. He lies down by my side.
"See we're a perfect fit." He lies there for a moment before raising himself up on his elbow so that the top part of his body hovers over mine. He leans forward to kiss me. This kiss is unlike the others we've shared. There is a fierceness to it. I close my eyes and concentrate on the hungry sensations my body is feeling. I want more. I lose track of time and don't know how long we continue until I feel Peeta's hand fumbling with the buttons on the front of my dress. It brings me to my senses causing me to push his hand away and sit up quickly.
I'm warm and out of breath.
Peeta sits up next to me. He's flushed as well. "I told you it's private in here."
I smile in agreement. "How smart of you to test it."
But I have other concerns. "How do you get dressed in here?" I ask.
A look of confusion clouds his face. "Well, I mostly sleep in my clothes. I use Rye's wagon when I want to change completely.
He looks at my long dress, with all the tiny buttons along the front. The buttons he was trying undo just a few moments earlier.
"Oh.." he says. I think he finally understands my concerns. How am I supposed to remove my dress every evening and put it back on every morning in this tiny tent?
I have an idea. "Peeta, get out of the tent. I'll see if I can take off my dress and put it back on. Then I'll know if it will work."
He gives me a funny look, but agrees. As soon as he exits and the tent flap closes, I begin to unbutton my dress and slip it over my head. It's not easy, but I'm able to do it. I pick it back up and put it back over my head and start to re-button it. From outside the tent, I hear Peeta call.
"Are you all right in there Katniss? Do you need any help?"
"I'm fine. I'll be right out," I call back to him.
I finish buttoning my dress, straighten out my skirt, open the flap, and crawl out of the tent. Peeta is nearby talking with Gale. I stand up quickly and walk toward them.
The conversation stops when I reach them. They both stare at the front of my dress and laugh.
"Catnip, you might want to…" Gale starts.
Oh, no. I look down. I have buttoned my dress so haphazardly it looks like a small child did it. I turn quickly away and run for my mother's wagon so I can correct my mistake.
Over the next few days our course changes. The scenery is heavily treed with fir and quaking aspen. The terrain we travel is mostly uphill. The air thins as our elevation rises. Peeta and Rye get sick again, not as bad as last time, because they drink extra water, but sick enough that neither can drive the wagon. Again Rory steps in and drives it for them.
One day we face such a steep descent down the mountain that everyone gets out of their wagons. Ropes are tied to the rear wheels and we pull on them to prevent the wagons from tumbling on top of themselves. Our company takes its time and we reach the bottom safely, although we see the remnants of other wagons that crashed before us. We follow the exact same procedure yet a second time before the shortcut is finished and we arrive in the Bear River Valley and merge with the Fort Bridger loop. Fort Hall is getting closer.
We travel though a lush landscape of knee-high grass. There is plenty of game here and fresh water. When our company stops for a day's rest, Gale and I go hunting. We get a deer, plus several rabbits and squirrels. It is a good haul that we divide up with the rest of the camp. I can tell by Peeta's countenance that he isn't exactly happy about the time I spend alone with Gale, but he doesn't say anything. After all, he can't offer to come with us because he doesn't have a rifle anymore. How would he explain it?
Word has spread about our engagement throughout the entire company. Captain Abernathy tells us he will halt the company for a day at Fort Hall so we can marry. It is assumed that we will provide refreshments for everyone to celebrate. If the game continues to be plentiful that shouldn't be a problem. Peeta will bake a cake for the occasion.
My mother isn't pleased that her advice to postpone the wedding is being ignored. But she doesn't argue the point. She stays tight-lipped as I talk about the plans.
Madge offers to lend me the dress she wore when she married Gale. Even though it is a pretty dress and even though I'm happily engaged to Peeta, the thoughts of my emotions on that day bring back bittersweet memories. I make an excuse and politely refuse.
Cinna hears about my dilemma when he is at our campfire one evening. He is helping Madge and Delly tailor their everyday clothing so it will fit their expanding waistlines. He says he has the perfect dress for me to wear. A wealthy customer ordered and paid for it, then changed her mind after it was finished. Cinna says he's been saving it for someone and he guesses it's me. He brings it to our wagon for me to try on. It is made of soft blue satin with white lace trim. Cinna doesn't have to do much alteration. It fits as if it were personally designed for me.
"Your dress makes me look beautiful," I tell him.
'You are beautiful. It's not the dress."
It's nice to hear such kind words. It sounds like something my father would say to me if he were here.
"Thank you so much."
"You're very welcome. I'm glad to play a small part in making your wedding day special. It's been such a pleasure over the course of this long and difficult journey to watch your friendship with Peeta catch on fire and turn into love."
I had no idea Cinna was paying any attention to us, although I remember he overheard my mother yelling at Prim and I after the incident in the wagon during the storm. I think a lot of other people in our company share similar feelings though because we get other offers to help. Sae volunteers to cook the meal, as long as we provide the supplies. This is a relief to my mother and Hazelle who will now be able to spend the day visiting, instead of slaving over the campfire. Mr. Jedson says he'll provide music for dancing by playing his fiddle.
The terrain changes as we get closer to the fort. The flat land is interspersed with what appears to be hollow cones as big as three feet in diameter and four feet high. At times the cones will be filled with soda water. Sometimes the water spouts up into the air. Rory tells us he can stop the spouting water by sitting on the cone. He can't do it by himself. Gale and Rye must hold him down so he can do it. Eventually he gives up and we catch the water in tin cups. We add lemon syrup to it. It tastes delicious. Captain Abernathy calls this area Soda Springs.
The ground turns sandy and we can see the adobe white walls of Fort Hall in the distance. It takes a day more of travel to reach it. We arrive early one afternoon. The trumpet calls a halt to our journey for the day. Captain Abernathy announces a layover tomorrow so that Peeta and I can be married. After unhitching the oxen, getting them water, and settling them in the grazing area, I grab my bow and arrow for hunting. Gale joins me. I haven't done as much hunting as I expected on this trip, mainly because of the additional responsibility I've had to take on with my father's death. So I enjoy the afternoon with Gale as we search for my wedding supper. Wildlife is plentiful here. I shoot many birds and Gale gets a deer.
"Are you happy Catnip?" Gale asks as we drag the carcass back to camp.
"Yes, this is good haul," I respond.
"No, I mean with getting married. You're not doing this because you're feeling pressured are you? I know I said some stuff a while ago about getting married to help your family…" His voice trails off.
"No, I'm not marrying Peeta because of that. I can't explain it, but I feel like I've always known him, like this was meant to happen."
"I know that he'll take good care of you." He sounds relieved.
I wonder if he's aware that Madge admitted to all their matchmaking maneuvers. Maybe he's feeling guilty.
The sun is setting as we arrive in camp. Gale and I bring the game to Sae's wagon. I butcher it for her before returning to our campfire. I am filthy, covered in blood and smelling of it, too. Peeta is sitting in front of an iron cook stove that sits on the ground. On a nearby makeshift table, several cake layers are cooling.
"Where did you get the stove?" I ask him.
"It's mine. I brought it with me," he says. "But I haven't used it much. Rye wanted me to leave it on the side of the road weeks ago because its so heavy, but I wanted to save it until our wedding, so I could make the cake."
"Oh." I am again reminded of Peeta's thoughtfulness. 'Well, it smells delicious."
I go to our wagon to change, but my mother stops me.
"You need a bath," she says.
"Alright," I say. "Did you heat some water?"
My mother shakes her head. "No, not a sponge bath. You need a real bath."
Hazelle and Prim join her. Prim carries a lantern and my mother carries a quilt and a clean dress. They walk me down a narrow, windy path to the edge of the Snake River. We walk along the edge until they find an area with a small rock outcropping.
"This looks private," my mother says. "You can bath here."
The women help me strip down and I walk into the water. It is freezing. I run out quickly. My mother gives me a small cloth to wash myself with and she pushes me back into the water.
"Scrub yourself clean, Katniss. You're getting married tomorrow."
I scrub my skin until it tingles, which isn't too long because I am turning blue with cold. I run out of the water and my mother pulls apart my braid and tells me to go back into the water and wash my hair. I lean back into the water and dip my hair into it. The icy water runs down my back chilling me even more. Finally I am finished. My mother wraps me in the quilt and rubs me dry. Hazelle hands me my drawers and chemise. Once on, she helps me put on my clean dress, socks and shoes. Meanwhile Prim washes the dirty clothes I took off. We return to the camp. I'm still shivering from the cold of the river. My wet hair is plastered to the sides of my face.
Peeta is pulling a cake pan out of the oven. He smiles when he sees me, but all I can do is wave as my mother hurries me into the wagon.
Prim combs through my wet hair. It takes a while before she can get the tangles out, before she can braid it.
"Are you excited?" Prim asks.
I nod. I've been so busy with preparations that I haven't had the time to think about the marriage. But with each passing moment it's starting to be more real to me.
When Prim is done with my hair, my mother tells her to leave the wagon. "I want to talk with Katniss privately," she says.
"Are you absolutely certain you want to go through with this?" my mother asks when Prim is gone. "If you have any doubts you need to call it off now."
I'm shocked by her comments. Does she think I'm marrying Peeta just to get land?
"No." I'm firm. "I want to do this. I love Peeta the same way you loved Father."
My mother makes a small noise in the back of her throat, halfway between a gasp and a sob. She doesn't say anything for a moment.
"I wanted to be sure," she finally says. "You haven't know each other very long and this is serious. From tomorrow onward that boy will be a part of your life forever."
But I already feel like he's always been a part of my life.
My mother follows up with some awkward advice about our wedding night. Then she tells me to go to sleep because I need my rest. I have big, big, big day ahead of me.
Chapter 11 – A Wedding
I sleep in this morning. Someone, I don't know who, takes the oxen to the river to drink and returns them to the grazing area. I wake up to the sound of Captain Abernathy's voice. He's at our campfire talking with Peeta. I hear him say that a government official has agreed to perform the ceremony at the fort at noon.
I wonder what time it is? Judging from the light that filters in through the canvas wagon top I guess it's around 9 a.m. I'm hungry and want to get up to eat. I know there's a silly superstition about the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding, but given the circumstances that's not going to be possible for us. I get dressed and leave the wagon. But Peeta is already gone. Prim tells me he went to Sae's wagon to finish decorating the cake. I eat the usual beans and bacon for breakfast and drink some coffee.
Strangely enough I find myself without anything to do except wait to put on my wedding dress and walk to the fort with Peeta and the others. Everyone else is busy with our usual layover chores, laundry, cleaning and repairing the wagons and cooking large batches of food for future use.
As I sit at the smoldering campfire, Cinna and Portia arrive. Cinna carries my wedding dress. He has finished the slight alterations to it.
I lead both of them into our wagon. Cinna lays the dress across one of the trunks. Portia follows him inside. She holds a quilt.
"This for you," she says as she gives it to me. "It's a wedding gift from us."
I unfold it. It is made up dozens of dark green squares stitched together. In the center of every square is a yellow flower.
I gasp. "Thank-you. It's beautiful."
"When Cinna was here repairing the canvas top after the storm, he returned and told me we needed to make a quilt for you," she says. "He said there would be a wedding soon."
I grow hot. I remember my mom's loud tirade after Peeta and Rory spent the night in our wagon. Cinna heard the entire thing. This is so embarrassing.
"I guess you were right," I mutter, as I quickly glance at Cinna's face. I expect him to laugh at me, but his eyes are gentle and caring.
They take their leave and I stay in the wagon fingering the quilt.
My mother and Prim return to the wagon a little later. They want to wash up and change their clothes. Prim wears one of her everyday dresses, but I redo her braid and lace a matching pink ribbon into it. My mother has a yellow silk dress that she pulls out of a trunk. She hasn't worn it on the journey because it's fancy, but her daughter's wedding is the perfect occasion to put it to use. Prim and I take her hair down, brush it, and then pin it up again into a chignon. When they are both dressed, they turn their attention to me. They help me out of the dress I'm wearing and into Cinna's creation. My mother asks how I'd like my hair and I ask her to do something fancy with my braid. She pins up into a classic style.
"You look lovely," my mother says when she is finished. "Both of you girls do. Your father would be so proud." We all tear up a bit as we think of Father. I wish he were here today.
I notice Peeta as soon as I climb out of the wagon. His eyes light up when he sees me. He wears a dark suit. I wonder if he borrowed it from his brother because I've never seen him in it before. Everyone is standing around the campsite waiting for us. Peeta comes close and takes my hand as we all walk the half-mile to Fort Hall.
We are married in a dimly-lit, tiny chapel that is inside the fort. Prim and Rye are our witnesses. Everyone else, my mother, Delly, and all of the Hawthornes are crowded tight around us as we recite our vows. Peeta sounds very serious. My voice is soft, but firm. Surprising to me, Peeta pulls out a tiny gold ring from his pocket to place on my finger during the ceremony. With a quick kiss on the lips, we are pronounced husband and wife.
Peeta keeps his arm around me as we walk back to the campsite. The celebration is already underway. Sae has set out platters of deer meat, stuffed birds, breads, beans, rice, and pies.
Peeta's cake is set out on a special table. It's really a number of smaller cakes pushed together to form a giant flower. The frosting is yellow and he has piped green leaves at the bottom edges. It reminds me of the flower on Cinna's quilt.
Mr. Jedson plays his fiddle. Some people dance, while others fill their plates. In another area, I see Captain Abernathy pour spirits for the men that surround him.
People come up to congratulate us. We smile and thank them, but never let go of each other. Eventually we are directed to the table with Peeta's cake. Sae hands me a knife and I cut a slice from it. I feed Peeta a bit and he puts some into my mouth. Some of the frosting smears onto my lips and Peeta kisses it off. The crowd whoops and I blush.
Peeta takes my hand and we dance for a while to the lively fiddle music. Eventually, we get something to eat. The entire afternoon passes by in a blur to me. At some point people drift away from the party. It's getting late and the oxen need to be taken to water. Peeta tells me that Rye and Gale will take care of Cato, Clove, Marvel and Thresh so I don't need to worry.
I ask Peeta when he will set up the tent. He tells me that Rye said we should sleep in his wagon tonight.
"What about Delly?" I ask.
Peeta grins. "Can't you get Delly out of your thoughts for once?"
I smile, remembering my imaginings about Peeta and Delly, which I had brought up in our first conversation.
"I think she's staying with your mother," he finally says.
We walk back to Rye's wagon. The sun is low in the western sky and an orange glow colors the camp. When we arrive at the wagon, Rye stops us.
"Hey Peet, I need to talk with you for a moment."
"Just a minute," Peeta says to me. "I'll be right back."
He kisses my cheek and turns to follow his brother who is walking in the direction of the river.
As soon as he leaves, my mother appears. "Let me get you out of that dress," she says. She's carries the quilt that Cinna and Portia made for us. She follows me into Rye and Delly's wagon. Carefully she helps me unbutton the dress and pull it over my head. I sit there in my in my chemise and drawers. She pulls a thin nightgown decorated with inset lace from underneath the quilt.
"Here's something pretty for you to wear tonight."
I don't know where my mother got this nightdress, because I've never seen it before. But I slip it over my head.
"Thank you," I mutter.
I can see my mother wants to say something, but I'm worried she's going to repeat her awkward conversation from the previous evening. I want her to leave the wagon because I expect Peeta back any moment. I'm nervous enough already.
"Katniss, there's been a lot of drinking at the celebration today and I suspect there will be some disturbances this evening. It's all done in fun so don't take it seriously. Chivarees are so childish. I expect none of us will get much sleep tonight."
I know that word. Chivaree is noisy serenade that people perform for newlyweds. They bang pots and pans and hoot and holler to disturb them on their wedding night. I had forgotten all about it.
My mother leaves the wagon and I wait for Peeta. I spread out the quilt, then fold part of it over myself like a bedroll. Its dark inside the wagon now and I wonder if Rye has a lantern he keeps to light the inside. I'm starting to get worried because Peeta still hasn't returned.
I'm dozing lightly when I hear the stomps of running feet. It sounds like someone being chased. I hear a few whoops in the distance. Then the wagon rattles a bit and someone climbs inside.
"Katniss, are you in here?" Peeta sounds out-of-breath.
I sit up quickly. "Yes."
I move closer and bump into him. I touch his hair. He's soaking wet. "What happened?"
"Rye and I went to river to talk. He told me he wanted his suit back and I needed to take it off immediately. After I undressed, a couple of guys jumped out from behind the rocks and pushed me into the river. I had to wait until it was dark to come back because I'm only wearing my underclothes."
He's shivering. "You need to get out of these wet things." I hear Peeta remove his nightshirt and drawers and toss them into a far corner of the wagon. I wrap Cinna's quilt around him.
"My mother said there would probably be a chivaree for us tonight."
As soon as I finish speaking, it begins. The clanging of pots and pans smashing together is deafening loud. I startle. Peeta opens the quilt and pulls me to his side before closing it.
It's as if the wagon were under attack. It starts to shake from side to side, but stops suddenly when Rye calls out that he doesn't want his wagon damaged. Then the clanging and crashing gets louder again. It goes on and on.
Meanwhile inside the quilt I grow toasty warm. I am very conscious that Peeta is sitting naked beside me. He kisses my neck and pulls out the hairpins that keep my braid in its classic style. He unravels my braid bit by bit until my hair is fanned out across my back. Before long, I am helping him remove my nightdress. We kiss with such passion that I lose track of everything around me except the sound of our breathing. Afterwards, when we lay together tangled in Cinna's quilt, I notice the clanging noise has stopped.
The sound of gunfire wakes me. For a moment I am disoriented. There is an arm sprawled across my bare stomach and my head is resting on someone's uncovered shoulder. Then I remember, I am married now.
"Peeta, it's morning." I gently push his arm off of me and sit up.
He rolls onto his back and groans before sitting up. "Good morning, Mrs. Mellark," he mumbles.
"Good morning to you, Mr. Mellark." I kiss his cheek. Light is seeping in through the canvas top. I hold the quilt tightly to my chest, self-conscious because I am naked. Even though we know each others' bodies now, we haven't actually seen each other undressed because it was dark last night.
I glance around the wagon and realize I don't have any clothes in here except for my undergarments.
"Peeta, you need to get dressed and find my mother or Prim and ask them to bring me something to wear."
He lifts the lid of the trunk closest to him and looks inside. He slams it shut and looks inside a second trunk. He slams the lid down even louder.
"There are no clothes in this wagon at all," he states. "Rye took out all the clothes."
Meanwhile I look on the floor of the wagon for my undergarments and the lace nightgown. I find them and turning my back to Peeta dress quickly.
I hand Peeta the wet underclothes he tossed off last night. He frowns and shakes his head.
There is a second quilt in one of the trunks. I pull it out and wrap it around me.
"I'm going to my mother's wagon to get dressed. I'll bring you some of my father's clothes to wear."
I climb out the wagon dressed in a nightgown with a quilt wrapped tightly around my shoulders and run to my mother's wagon. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the others sitting around the campfire. Everyone is laughing, even my mother. When they see me, the laughter gets even louder. I see Rye wipe tears from his eyes. I climb into the wagon and dress. Then I search through our trunks looking for my father's things. I find a shirt and some pants and undergarments and carry them back to Rye's wagon. Peeta's shoes and socks are sitting on the ground near Rye's wagon. I scoop them up as well and bring everything to Peeta.
"Wear this until you get your clothes back from Rye." I turn my back so he can dress.
"Katniss, I don't care if you see me. We're married now."
But I care. This is all new to me. I turn toward him, but focus on the canvas wagon cover.
"Why would Rye play so many mean tricks on you?" I question while he dresses.
"It's because of what my older brother and I did when Rye got married. We kidnapped him and drove a few miles out-of-town and stripped him. He had to walk back home buck naked."
"Well in that case, you got off easy."
Chapter 12 - Marriage
Eventually we leave the wagon. It's a travel day and I find that Rory has already watered and hitched up the oxen for me. Peeta and I are both driving wagons today, so I don't see him until mid-day and then only in passing. Our route follows within a mile or so alongside the Snake River. The river is located at the bottom of step canyon walls, which are difficult for people and livestock to climb down. Fortunately, there are some tributary streams we pass where we can obtain water.
When we stop the wagons for the evening. I meet up with Peeta at a stream where the oxen are drinking.
"I'll set up the tent after dinner."
I can't wait for darkness to fall because I'm ready to go into the tent with Peeta to experience some more privacy. It's all I can do to keep from touching him at dinner. After we eat, a young man about 22 years old visits our campfire. He introduces himself as Casey Logan. I've seen him around our camp but don't know him, as he didn't grow up in our town. He focuses most of his attention on Prim. I call her away to wash the dishes with me, because I see her getting uncomfortable. Later, after he leaves, my mother confides to me that Mr. Logan has expressed an interest in courting Prim.
"He saw her at the wedding celebration and thought she was `quite a stunner' were his exact words," she says.
"She too young. Besides she's besotted with Rory."
"I told him that she's only fourteen, but that didn't seem to bother him." She shakes her head in disgust. "I think he's interested in her because of the free land."
"If he returns, maybe Peeta could talk to him and convince him otherwise," my mother suggests. "Mr. Logan might take the hint better if it comes from a male relative."
I nod. Peeta is good with words. He'll be able to handle this situation.
The sky is glowing orange with the sunset when I gather a couple of quilts, including the one Cinna gave us and go to the tent. I crawl inside and spread out one quilt to cover the floor and put the other at the back of the tent to use as a top blanket.
I return to the campfire looking for Peeta. He is talking with Rye. They are laughing. I'm happy to see that the incidents last night and this morning haven't damaged their relationship. I think the opposite sex is strange. Prim and I would never play mean tricks like that on each other.
I sit down by the campfire digging in the sandy soil with a small stick. I'm waiting for Peeta. It must be obvious what I'm doing because Peeta looks at me and smirks.
"Ready to turn in Katniss."
My face turns bright red. "Sure," I mutter. I drop the stick and walk toward the tent. The light fades the further we get from the campfire. Only the stars and a sliver of moon are guiding us now. I trip over one of the tent stakes, but I catch myself before falling. I crouch down and crawl into the tent. I turn quickly around so I can lay down and I my head collides into Peeta's face.
"Be careful Katniss."
"Sorry," I mutter.
We both lie down on the blanket. I pull back the top quilt to cover us.
After a minute, Peeta says, "my nose is bleeding."
"Do you want me to get a cloth or something?"
"No, I'll use my nightshirt." I hear him sit up and unbutton his shirt. He throws it to the back of the tent. Then he pulls off his nightshirt and sits up to hold it against his nose.
While Peeta attempts to stop the blood flow, I carefully unbutton my dress. Now would be a good time to take it off. I sit up, and carefully pull the dress over my head. My elbow makes contact with the side of Peeta's face.
"Katniss, watch it." He sounds exasperated.
"It was an accident," I explain before tossing the dress to the back of the tent. I pull my shoes off and kick them to the side.
This evening isn't turning out well at all. I lay back down. After a while Peeta lays down too.
"Did it stop bleeding?" I ask.
"I think so."
I remember Casey Logan and Prim.
"That man who came to the campfire tonight asked my mother if he could court Prim."
"What did your mother say?"
"She told him Prim is too young. But, Peeta, even if she wasn't, she's crazy about Rory. My mom thinks that Casey Logan is only interested in her to get free land. If he comes back, would you talk to him? You're Prim's brother-in-law now and he might take it better if comes from a man…" My voice trails off.
Peeta doesn't respond immediately. I think he agrees, but then he speaks. "Yeah, I could talk with him. But how do you know he's only interested in her for free land? He might be genuinely attracted to her. I didn't marry you because I wanted more land. And if they were to marry, Prim would benefit as well because the free land would be in her name. Just like you benefit because you married me."
I'm stunned. The implication is clear. He thinks I married him to get free land.
"I can't believe you think that about me," I turn onto my side facing away from Peeta. I remember last night and wince. Does he think I'd give myself away so cheaply?
"What are you talking about?" He puts his arm across my shoulder as if to pull me back toward him.
I push his arm off me. Tears fall down my face. I've only been married one day and everything is unraveling. Peeta sighs loudly, but I ignore him. I curl myself up into a little ball and twist my gold ring around my finger. I close my eyes tight and drift off to sleep.
When the gunfire rouses me awake, Peeta is already gone. I sit up and feel for my dress. It is neatly folded on Peeta's side of the tent. I put it on, then lace up my shoes. I gather up the quilts to return them to my mother's wagon.
I go to the grazing area to look for the oxen and lead them to the wagon to hitch them up. Peeta is at the campfire eating when I arrive. His head is bent over his plate. When I sit down, he lifts it to stare at me, his face sorrowful. The skin around his right eye is swollen black where my elbow made contact. The bridge of his nose also appears swollen.
Oh, no. He looks awful. Did I do that?
Gale comes to sit down and takes one look at Peeta. He chuckles and looks at me. "Fighting already, Catnip. I would have thought you'd hold off for a few days at least."
I scowl at Gale. Peeta shoves the last piece of bread into his mouth and stands up to leave. I watch him walk away. We need to talk but there isn't time right now.
At our mid-day break, my mother finds me. "What happened to Peeta? He looks terrible."
"It was an accident. I elbowed his eye and my head bumped into his nose in the dark tent."
"Was that all? He appears to be avoiding you."
"No…" I'm embarrassed to say it. "He thinks I married him to get free land."
"He said that?" she questions.
"Not exactly. It was sort of implied."
"Katniss, I can't believe Peeta thinks that at all. You need to talk to him and work this out because that tent is going to get very uncomfortable if you don't.
This afternoon we hear the sound of rushing water as we travel. It's the roar of American Falls, a gigantic waterfall, on the Snake River. We camp nearby tonight.
Peeta sits by me at dinner.
"You should sleep in your mother's wagon tonight," he says. "I have guard duty."
"Alright." I'm crushed. He kisses me on the cheek and leaves right after we eat.
As soon as he goes, Gale moves to sit next to me. "Is everything okay between you two?"
"Are you sure? It seems strange he'd volunteer to do guard duty. After all, you've only been married a couple of days."
He volunteered! Oh, things are much worse than I thought.
I wash the dishes and climb into my mother's wagon.
"Peeta has guard duty. Can I sleep here?" My mother frowns, but she hands me Cinna's quilt.
"Did you clear things up with him?" she asks.
I wrap myself in the blanket. My finger traces the tiny yellow flowers that sit in the center of the green squares. I fiddle with the gold band on my finger.
Prim comes into the wagon humming.
"What are you so happy about little duck?" Her cheeriness irritates me.
She smiles secretively, but doesn't say anything. She takes her dress off and wraps herself in a quilt.
My mother turns down the lantern and the wagon is dark. It takes me a long time to fall asleep. I twist my ring nervously. I miss Peeta. I think my mother was right. We should have waited until we got to Oregon to get married. It would have given him more time to be sure of my feelings, to understand that I was marrying him for love, not land. And really, the tent is too small for both of us.
Peeta's bruises are fading by the next morning. The swelling at the bridge of his nose is gone.
He sits next to me as we eat breakfast.
"Did you sleep well?" he asks me.
"No," I mutter.
"Missed me?" His voice is soft.
He grins. "Let's talk tonight. We'll take a walk after dinner."
We are camped on soft and sandy ground. I meet up with Peeta after I have washed the dinner dishes with Prim. It's been a long day. Our wagon train has crossed several shallow creeks today and that always brings extra tension that something could go wrong. I'm tired, but not as tired as Peeta who was awake last night doing guard duty.
He holds my hand as we walk toward the Snake River, which is a mile away.
"Why were you so upset the other night?" he asks.
I'm glad he doesn't start with small talk, but simply addresses the problem right away.
"I didn't like you implying that I married you to get free land." I admit.
"I never said that you did."
What? "Well that's what it sounded like to me." I stop and turn toward him. "Peeta, I married you because I love you. It has nothing to do with land. I'm so sick of hearing about this stupid land. Ever since my father died, everyone's been telling me I need to get married so my family would have land. So we would have a home in Oregon."
"Who told you to get married?" He looks startled. Maybe I shouldn't be telling him this.
My voice grows softer. "Gale, Madge, Captain Abernathy.."
"Yeah, after my father died, Captain Abernathy told me I'd be safer if I was married."
"Is this why you went walking every night with me?" He lets go of my hand and takes a step back.
"You were there Peeta, I had no choice initially."
He looks sick, like I've just told him our entire marriage was fake.
"But I grew to like it, to like you. Even when we took Vick and Posy along." I smile. "Anyway don't play so innocent Peeta, you played a role too. Madge told me about you talking to my father."
"When did she tell you?" He frowns.
"After I already was in love with you. It didn't make any difference, but…well, it was nice to know that my father consented."
He appears a bit more relaxed. "Katniss, I had no idea that you were being so pressured. I guess I can understand how you would be sensitive to any mention of marrying to get free land. In fact, it bothered me when you suggested Casey Logan was only interested in Prim because he could get extra acreage if he were married. I didn't want you to think I married you for the same reason."
I laugh. "Peeta, that thought never even crossed my mind."
"Good." He smiles, steps forward, and claims my hand again. We continue walking.
"But you were right about Casey Logan," he continues. "I volunteered to do guard duty last night so I could talk with him. He's on the hunt for a wife because he wants the most land he can get. He admitted it. He's been to every wagon with a single woman in it. I wouldn't be surprised if he talks to Hazelle about Posy."
I chuckle. I'd like to see how Gale handles that one.
"Anyway I told him Prim is already being courted."
"You didn't have to lie, Peeta."
"It's not a lie. What do you think Rory is doing?"
There is a skip in my step as we walk back to the tent. This time, in an attempt to avoid any injuries, I crawl inside first and undress, before calling Peeta inside. He crawls in, closes the tent's flap and we are newlyweds once again. Privacy can be sublime.
Chapter 13 – Slogging Onward
The journey is wearing all of us down. Oxen are dying. Wagon drivers are forced to lighten their load by emptying their wagons of excess goods. Cinna's cow drops dead. No more milk and butter for us.
Some families have started to ration food. There wasn't much extra food at Fort Hall to supply people whose food stocks were running low. There's salmon in the Snake River, so every evening people head off to catch some. It's not easy to climb down the steep embankment to put a line into the water, but it's worth it if your family is hungry. We fortunately have enough to eat, although Gale and Rory catch a few salmon one evening to add some variety to our diet.
The terrain grows hilly. We pass several hot springs. We stop for two days of rest as several people in our company become suddenly ill. My mother spends the time going from wagon to wagon tending to the sick. In our group, Gale and Rory fall ill. Both have chills and muscle aches. The illness doesn't appear to be life-threatening, but Hazelle moves in with Madge and confines her sick sons to her own wagon. Madge is frustrated because my mother and Hazelle forbid her from tending to Gale. They are worried for her baby.
To make matters worse, two of the Hawthorne's oxen die while our train is stopped. With Gale and Rory incapacitated, Hazel and Madge are left to figure out a solution. Clearly one wagon's load will need to be lightened considerably so that only two oxen are needed to pull it. Madge and Hazel have to be ruthless in determining what items will be left behind. It's obvious to both of them that Gale's wagon is carrying a surplus of items – chiefly wedding presents given by Madge's parents. These include dishes, rugs, and furniture for their home in Oregon.
But Madge doesn't want to give up anything. "These things are my only memories of home." She asks my mother if she can store some of the items in our wagon.
My mother shakes her head sadly. "I can't take the risk."
Although sympathetic, Rye and Delly also refuse.
Madge is so distraught about losing her wedding gifts that she spends half the day in tears. But when my mother returns from her rounds with the sad news that the Jedson's baby boy has died from the influenza, Madge finds the strength to unload her treasures. Leaving behind some furniture on the side of the road is nothing compared to leaving behind a child.
To ease the load for our livestock, we begin to drive the wagons by walking alongside the oxen, instead of riding on the bench on the front of the wagon. We don't use reins, we shout and crack a whip overhead to get them to change direction. No one rides in the wagons unless they absolutely can't walk. That makes it difficult for Madge and Delly who are already halfway through their pregnancies and had, up until now, rode in their wagons for part of the day.
After many days of dusty travel, we finally cross the Snake River to get to Fort Boise. Disappointingly, there is little there in the way of supplies. Our wagon train lays over for a day. It's a good area to graze the livestock. We need to build up their energy for the rest of the journey.
The grim march continues. More dust. Now people and oxen fall sick due to bad drinking water that tastes of sulpher. We plod on. Finally fresh water. Ample grass for the livestock. Friendly Indians visit us to trade fish. Terrified, Posy hides in the wagon. Although they are peaceful, our group is on guard around them. The memories of our time at Fort Laramie weigh heavy on us.
We are getting so close to our new home, but first there is another mountain range to cross – the Blue Mountains. Although smaller than The Rockies this range is full of steep grades. As we get closer, we are astounded at the sight of the trees that grow on this mountain. Pine, larch, spruce and fir, they stand nearly 200 feet tall. As we get closer, the nights become cooler.
I lie in the tent encircled by Peeta's arms. His skin is warm against mine. Cinna's blanket is a warm cocoon that binds us together. I'm just starting to waken when I hear the sound of gunfire. Peeta pulls me closer and sloppily kisses my forehead.
"We need to get up," I mutter.
He groans. "Do we have to?"
Someday this journey will be over. Someday we will be able to sleep until the sun is up. But not today. Peeta lets go of me and rolls onto his back. He sits up reaching in the dark to find his clothing.
"It's freezing." He shivers involuntarily. He dresses quickly and opens the flap.
"Oh no." He's shocked. "It snowed."
I roll onto my belly and look out of the tent flap and see a light scattering of snow spread across the ground. Peeta scoops up a tiny handful white flakes and presses it onto the small of my back.
"What are you doing?" I squeal. I push at his chest, but he only laughs at me.
"Get dressed, Katniss. This is going to be some kind of day."
He kisses me before he leaves the tent. I dress quickly in the cold air, then fold up the blankets to bring them to my mother's wagon. As soon as I leave the tent, though, I realize I need to wrap one of the quilt's around me because of the intense chill.
How could we have snow already? It's only mid-September. At my mother's wagon I trade the quilt I have wrapped around me for my father's old leather hunting jacket. I hurry to see how Cato, Clove, Marvel and Thresh are faring in this weather. The oxen appear fine and energetic, as if the cold has woken them up. They snort loudly and paw at the icy ground. With Peeta's help, I hitch them up to my mother's wagon.
We begin our ascent of the Blue Mountains. It warms up a bit and the dusting of snow melts quickly. We travel for an hour before a trumpet blast sounds and the wagons are halted. The course is too steep for the oxen to pull the fully loaded wagons.
Everyone must unpack his wagon, set personal items to the side of the road, then drive the wagon up the steep incline. Once at the top, the wagon is halted, and the driver walks down the incline and hand-carries all his personal goods up the hill. Then he repacks the wagon. This process takes most of the day as there are now 25 wagons in our company. Many people choose not to carry everything they own up the hill. It is an easy decision to lighten your load when faced with carrying your goods up a steep hill.
Once the wagons in our party are driven to the top of the range, Madge walks up the steep incline to stand watch over the personal items everyone carries up. Delly stands guard at the bottom of the incline. The rest of our party walks up and down the hill carrying for most of the day. Once all the wagons are repacked, we travel for another hour before halting for the day.
The night air is cold. We quickly unhitch the oxen, get them watered and let them graze. My mother and Hazelle have a warm meal waiting for us when we are done. Peeta pitches the tent immediately after we eat. I grab an extra quilt. Everyone turns in early. It is too cold to sit around the campfire and visit. It has been a long, physically tiring day.
I crawl into the tent and quickly undress, before Peeta gets inside. My back hurts from lifting today.
"This ground is so hard," I grumble as I try to make myself comfortable.
Peeta discards his last bit of clothing and crawls under the quilt next to me.
"Are you sore from today?" he asks.
"Roll over. I'll give you a back rub."
I oblige and his strong hands start on my shoulders. All those years of working in his father's bakery kneading dough have given him some skill in this area. I feel the tension drain from my upper back and neck.
"Any other sore spots?"
I smile as his hands begin to roam…looking for more sources of tension in my body.
It's cold again when we wake. It starts to snow lightly as the wagons travel this morning. By noon the snow is falling heavily. It sticks to the ground and the wagons' wheels slide uncontrollably under it. A trumpet blast sounds. We stop, apparently for the day, because it is unsafe for us to continue. Hazelle gets a large campfire roaring. After we have taken care to the oxen, everyone huddles close to the fire to get warm. We eat a hot meal, something we normally don't get at our mid-day break.
"Catnip, let's go hunting this afternoon," Gale suggests when he finishes eating.
I nod automatically. Then I turn my head to look toward Peeta. He frowns. His eyes flit away from mine. Why do I feel guilty? He knows I'm a hunter. We're only going into the woods to get meat for everyone to eat.
Instead of discouraging me, though, he says, "you should go. I want to do some baking this afternoon."
"I'll help you," Delly says.
"That would be great." He sounds enthusiastic. But I know he isn't because he's told me that Delly has no feel for baking or cooking. He said he's obligated to teach her though, or his brother will starve once they settle in Oregon.
I get my bow and arrows from my mother's wagon, then kiss Peeta goodbye.
"I'll be back before dinner."
Gale and I leave the wagon train. The snow has stopped falling. About five inches lay on the ground. As we enter the heavily treed forest, the ground is devoid of snow. The canopy of trees must have prevented it from hitting the forest floor. In fact, the ground is soft and muddy, even. The air is warmer here, too.
"Do you think we'll be traveling tomorrow?" I ask Gale. "Will this snow be melted?"
"I think it might. Finnick said it's highly unusual for it to snow this early. He thinks it an abnormal occurrence. Why, do you think we might end up like the Donner Party? Is that why you agreed to go hunting?"
I cringe. Five years ago, the Donner wagon train got trapped in snow while traveling to California. The people were starving and turned to cannibalism. The grizzly story was in all the newspapers.
"I'm glad you came though. I thought you might disagree when Madge shook her head."
"What are you talking about?"
"Didn't you see Madge when I asked you? She got a funny look on her face and started shaking her head at me. I wish she would just say things outright. I can't figure out all her hints."
Did Madge shake her head because of Peeta's disapproval, or did she disapprove on her own?
"Anyway it seemed like a good day to hunt. I don't know if we'll have much opportunity later."
He's right. We are getting closer to the end of the journey.
"It seems hard to believe that this trip is almost over," I admit. "It will be strange to stay in one place every day."
"It will be a relief to me, actually. I'm ready for a break."
I study Gale's carefully while he speaks. His face is drawn, almost haggard-looking. He's lost some weight too, probably due to his recent illness. I'm sure he's worried about Madge and the baby and how is he responsible to provide for his entire family now.
We stop talking as Gale sets up a snare. When he is done we walk further into the woods. Gale is walking a few feet ahead of me when he sinks into the mud, loses his footing and falls backwards into the ground, dropping his rifle at his side. It happens so fast that I can do nothing to catch his fall.
"Are you alright?" I rush to his side crouching on the ground beside him. He tries to sit up, but I push him back down.
"Wait a minute. Don't sit up too fast, you'll get dizzy."
He lies there rubbing the back of his head.
"I'm okay, Catnip. I'm fine. What happened?
"You slipped in the mud and fell backwards. It looked like you hit your head." I put my hand onto the back of his head at the spot where he was rubbing. I can feel a goose egg forming.
"We need to get back so my mother can take a look at it."
He sits up. "No, it's fine. Let's finish hunting. We haven't caught anything, have we?"
"No, but let's not go too far into the woods." How will I get him back if he passes out or something? I can't carry Gale.
Within minutes, though we see an elk. I pull out my bow and arrow and take it down. We begin dragging the carcass back to the camp. It is difficult work to drag it through the muddy forest. When we reach the snare Gale set, a rabbit is caught inside.
"Looks like you got a rabbit," I point out to Gale.
He gives me a strange look. "Leave it. That's not my snare Catnip."
"But it is."
"Don't you think I'd remember if I set a snare?" He's angry now.
So we pass the rabbit by. We walk for a while before Gale stops suddenly.
"Where are we? I don't remember this part of the forest at all."
"I remember the way out," I say. "I'll lead." We change positions so that I'm in the front. We walk for a few minutes in silence.
"I'm glad we got this elk," I confide. "Because I don't think Peeta was exactly thrilled about me going hunting today."
Gale stops again. "Peeta? Peeta Mellark, the baker's son? What business is it of his if you go hunting?"
It's then I realize what I had feared all along after we passed his snare line. Gale's bump on the head has caused him to lose his memory.
"Gale, Peeta and I are married. You were at our wedding."
Gale laughs at me. "I think I'd remember if you got married Catnip."
"Do you remember your wedding Gale?"
He freezes. He looks stunned, but his face quickly turns angry.
"Catnip, there is no way you'd marry Peeta. You have nothing in common. You don't even know him."
"That's what I originally thought, too, but you and Madge's match-making maneuvers were successful."
"Madge?" His voice changes. I can hear wistfulness in it.
"She's your wife. She's having your baby."
He gets a dopey love-struck look on his face. "Let's get this elk home then."
As we exit the forest and see the wagon train in the distance, Gale stops yet again.
"Why is there a wagon train parked outside of town?"
"It's our train, Gale, we're going to Oregon. In fact, we're almost there."
He drops the legs of the elk he is dragging and puts his head into his hands. "Catnip, I can't remember any of this. What's happened to me?"
"You bumped your head when you fell in the mud. Let's get the carcass to our campsite, then my mother can check you out. I'm sure she'll be able to help you.
But I didn't know what my mother can do to help him. I don't know if she ever treated someone with such a strange head injury. We drag the elk through the melting snow.
Everyone comes running when they see us dragging so large a creature. We will definitely be sharing this meat with the others in camp.
Gale looks around as if in a daze. I grab his hand and start to pull him away.
"Where's my mother?" I call to Delly who is nearby. "Gale hit his head."
"Oh, no," she says. "I'll find her."
"Send her to his wagon."
Madge and Peeta are standing near the fire. I can see that Peeta has been productive this afternoon as the makeshift table near the fire is covered with baked goods.
Madge frowns when she notices me pulling and pushing her husband toward their wagon.
"What's wrong?" She comes closer. Gales eyes widen as he notices her protruding belly.
He pulls away from me and wraps his arms around her. "Oh, Madge." He puts his hand on her stomach and looks longingly at her with tears in his eyes.
"What happened Katniss?" Madge says calmly. "What's wrong with him?
"He slipped in the woods and hit his head. He seems to have lost his memory."
"Let's go to our wagon," Madge tells him.
My mother arrives shortly. I explain what happened. She grabs some snow off the ground and wraps it in a cloth to put against Gale's head.
"Katniss, take care of that elk," she tells me before climbing into the wagon.
We eat dinner late that evening. So does the rest of the camp, everyone enjoying the fresh elk meat. Gale joins us. But it's clear he's not himself. In the wagon, he asked for his father and Hazelle had to tell him that he was dead. It was like he heard the news for the first time.
Chapter 14 – The End of the Trail
The snow melts while we sleep. We are able to travel, but the ground is muddy. In spite of Gale's injuries today is a travel day. Captain Abernathy visited our campfire late last night and talked to my mother.
"I don't care about his memories, is he able to function?"
My mother admitted that he could. She said that he may regain his memories once the swelling on the back of his head goes down.
"That's good enough for me," Captain Abernathy said. "We leave at dawn."
My mother told all of us that Gale shouldn't be left alone. He needs someone with him at all times. Madge took the first shift as she leads him to their wagon to get some sleep.
Gale seems energized the next morning, although his memories still haven't returned. Rory shows him how to hitch up the wagons. It takes longer than usual, but Gale catches on quickly.
"How is he?" I take Madge aside to question her.
"He's doing alright. He can't remember much about the past year. In some ways it's not such a bad thing. He's calmer because he's forgotten everything he was worried about."
"Is there anything we can do to help? I ask her.
"Well, I made up a little game. I call it `real or not real anymore.' It's to help him remember. He makes a statement and I tell him whether it's real or not. If you get a chance, play it with him."
Peeta drives the wagon today, so Madge and I walk alongside Gale and play the game. At first, it's interesting because Gale remembers the past in such exact detail as if it happened yesterday. But when Madge and I tell him about the present, he becomes disoriented and somewhat baffled. We stop playing because we don't want to upset him anymore.
At the end of the day, alone with Peeta in the tent I wonder aloud what would happen if he lost his memory.
"Katniss, if I hit my head and couldn't remember the past year, and I learned we were married, I'd be surprised, but very happy."
"If it happened to me, I would be surprised too," I admit. More likely stunned, but I don't tell him that. "But, honestly Peeta, I can't say I'd be happy, at least right away. Because I wouldn't know you at all."
"Then I'd just have to win your heart all over again," he says before kissing me goodnight.
As we cross the Blue Mountains, the bump on Gale's head grows smaller. His memory doesn't return as quickly, but Madge says she notices a slight improvement daily. At any rate, Gale is calmer and quieter. Like he's trying to figure out what's real.
Leaving the mountains behind, our train makes a slight detour in our course, avoiding the Whitman Mission where four years earlier, Indians massacred the founders, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, then burned the structure down. A meeting is held for the entire company of wagons.
"You have a decision to make," says Captain Abernathy. "We can travel by water down the Columbia River or we can go by land over the Barlow Road. If we take the water route, you must give up your wagon or disassemble it and put it on a boat or raft for a trip down the river. It can be very dangerous and expensive. The land route is rough and steep with poor grass. It's a toll road, but it's cheaper and safer than floating your goods down the river. I'll give you a day to think about it before we take a vote."
Again only the men will vote. Our entire traveling party, is in complete agreement this time. Although we are tired of this journey, we do not want the added expense a water trip would bring. We cannot afford to give up our wagons or sell our livestock. We need some resources for when we arrive in Oregon. Others in our company are of a different mind. They are sick and tired of this journey. The Blue Mountains have worn them down. When Captain Abernathy calls for a final vote, the majority lean toward the land course. Three families, however, elect to leave our train and take the water route. We bid them goodbye when we reach The Dalles.
To travel on the Barlow Road, which skirts the south shoulder of Mount Hood before descending into the Willamette Valley from the east, we must pay $5 for every wagon and 10 cents for each animal. Most everyone complains at the expense, forcing us to pay so much to complete the last 150 miles of a 2,000-mile journey. But we have little choice. Travel by river would have cost at least $50.
Because we have to pay, we expect a fine road to travel. But the Barlow Road isn't fine. Mr. Odair scouts out the course ahead and returns frowning. "It's better than it was last year," he tells the company, "but not by much. Be prepared for the worst piece of road we've been through so far."
He's right. It's so steep that we resort to our old routine of having to unload the wagon. But there are new steps added. We must now unhitch the oxen and drag them uphill with ropes. Then we tie the ropes around tree limbs and use them to pull the wagons up. Lastly, we drag or hand carry our wagon's contents up the hill before repacking the wagon again.
"What's this," Gale shouts when he finds a small sack of pebbles in one of the trunks in his mother's wagon. "Who's collecting rocks?" He tosses the bag onto the new discard pile that has been created as people continue to prune their possessions to lighten their wagon's load.
"That's mine," Rory shrieks. He grabs the small bag and puts it into his pocket. "I found them in a stream in the Blue Mountains. I'm keeping these."
Gale frowns. "Well, carry them on your person, then. I don't want an ox to die because of some stupid rocks."
Rory nods and pats his pocket. "I will."
But it doesn't matter. Two of the Hawthorne's oxen die a few days later. With four oxen left between two wagons, the Hawthornes must make a choice. Lighten their load even more so that both wagons are pulled by only a pair of oxen, or leave one of the wagons behind and carry everything in a single wagon. Either way, they are forced to discard more of their personal belongings on the side of the road.
Hazelle volunteers to give up her wagon. She says that she can sleep outside with Posy. My mother offers to let her sleep inside our wagon with her and Prim. It will be a tight fit, but we're almost to Oregon so it won't be for long. Rye shows Gale how he can cut the wagon down into a pushcart so that they won't have to give up as many of their possessions. A few other men in our company help. In fact another family decides to do the same with their second wagon.
So travel goes slowly. To make things worse, some mornings are so foggy that we can barely see ahead of ourselves. Sometimes we have to wait for the sun to burn through the dense layer of cloud that hovers over us.
In spite of the difficulties on the Barlow Road, all of us are getting excited. Our trip is almost over. I have mixed feelings because I've enjoyed the camaraderie of our traveling group. I will miss the conversations, the laughter, and the meals with the others. Fortunately we are family now - at least the Mellarks and the Everdeens are, and I suspect Prim will tie us to the Hawthorne family in time.
We sit at our campfire eating dinner one evening when Gale makes an announcement.
"Madge and I are getting married when we get to Oregon City."
"You're already married," I say. I look at Madge's bulging midsection. Isn't that proof enough for him?
"I can't remember our wedding," he admits. "It's probably the only memory I really regret losing."
It rains hard the day our wagon train arrives at Abernethy Green in Oregon City, the final campground of our journey. This day is so different from the excitement of six months ago when we left Independence, Missouri. We are tired now and worn down. We unhitch our wagons, and lead the oxen to water and grass. It's still raining and nearly dark, but it's only the middle of the afternoon. Gale insists we all go to the land office to file. He doesn't want to wait for tomorrow, convinced that someone will be get ahead of us in the line and get the choice parcels.
Gale and Madge, Rye and Delly, and Peeta and I hurry over to the office. None of our tracts we are assigned are adjacent to the other, but each couple is able to get a total of 640 acres.
"After all the effort to get here, it almost seems too easy," I say. I now am the proud owner of 320 acres in my new name, Katniss Mellark.
When we return to our campsite, Hazelle and my mother are cooking. The rain has stopped, but it is cool. We huddle around the campfire waiting to enjoy a large meal. Others from our company join us bringing their own food and soon we are setting up a makeshift table creating an informal feast. It's the first time since my wedding that so many in our company have gotten together to eat. There is much laughter and a few tears, but we are all happy to have reached our goal.
Captain Abernathy keeps sipping at a flask. I see my mother shaking her head at him. Both my parents were right. He is a drunk, but he got us here in one piece. He did alright. Mr. Odair has already left our group. As soon as we reached Abernethy Green, he tipped his hat to the company and pointed Mags toward home. He was eager to return to his wife and son after so long an absence.
The party lasts into the night. Slowly people leave our campfire and return to their wagons. Most have not gone to the land office yet and plan to do so tomorrow. So I guess Gale was right about going quickly and getting a jump on the choice land.
Finally it's just our traveling party sitting around the campfire. Someone suggests that we each recount our favorite memory or part about the journey. We want to focus on the good things, because it's too heartbreaking to remember that our fathers are not here with us to enjoy the moment.
Delly starts. "I've learned so much about cooking and baking on this trip." I look around at the others. Rye and Peeta appear to be holding back laughter as both brothers bite their lips and nod.
"I'm grateful we to got join this traveling party," Rye says. "It made the trip so much easier, what with the meals and all."
My mother and Hazelle nod. I notice Delly get a funny glint in her eye as he speaks. I suspect he'll hear about that comment tonight when they return to their wagon.
"Well my favorite thing is obvious," Peeta says. He puts his arm around waist. "Katniss agreed to marry me."
Everyone laughs and I blush. "I guess it's Peeta," I say, leaning my head against his shoulder.
"I wish I could remember my favorite part of the trip," Gale says. He rubs his hand over the back of his head where he bumped his head. "It seems like there must have been some good parts, but I only remember those steep hills on the Barlow Road. But tomorrow will be good." He smiles at Madge who sits next to him. They are getting married again tomorrow afternoon at a church in Oregon City.
Madge holds Gale's hand and squeezes it. "The best thing for me is getting to be part of this family. It was hard to leave my parents behind, but I feel as if you are all my family now." A few tears fall down the side of her face and she wipes them away.
Vick says he enjoyed living outdoors for such a long time. "Can I just live in the wagon forever?" He looks at Hazelle.
"No, you can't," she laughs. "I think this trip has made you completely uncivilized."
"I liked walking on the prairie with Katniss and Peeta," Posy says.
"We enjoyed our walks with you, too," Peeta tells her.
"I'm just happy that my girls pulled together under difficult circumstances," my mother states. "This has been a very trying journey, I know your father would be so proud of all of us."
"I'd have to second that," Hazelle says. "Despite everything that happened, we are still a family and still close. That means a lot."
No one says anything for a few minutes. We're all lost in our memories of the journey.
"What about you Prim?" I ask. "What are you happy about?"
Prims licks her lips and glances at Rory. Rory smiles and nods at her. Prim bites her lip and gets a funny look on her face, like she's trying so hard to be serious, but can't.
"Rory and I are engaged."
"Primrose Everdeen," my mother shouts. "You can't be engaged. You're too young."
"Are you crazy?" Gale glares at Rory. "You're not even old enough to shave."
"You're much too young to be making such a serious commitment," Hazelle adds.
"We know we're too young," Rory admits. "But Prim isn't, not here in Oregon anyway. Not when she's worth 320 acres to any single man 18 or older. She promised to wait for me, until I get older."
No one says anything for a while. Rory's explanation sounds logical given the circumstances. Prim's kidnapping at Fort Laramie and Casey Logan's request to court her are testimony to fact that Prim will likely be approached by other men looking for a wife in order to get free land. It's probably better to tell everyone she's betrothed, even if it's going to be a really long engagement.
"You both have my congratulations," Peeta finally says.
Eventually, the others also wish them well. The campfire dies out and everyone retires for the evening. We need our rest. Tomorrow is a big, big, big day. We are starting our adventures in Oregon.
Epilogue – Five years later
Despite the difficulties traveling to Oregon, the journey was really was the easy part. Settling into our new life proved more challenging. After we received our land grants from the commissioner in Oregon City, our party broke up to visit our individual parcels. Plutarch Heavensbee was right. The land of the Willamette Valley is rich and fertile. The Donation Land Act required we live on it for four years and cultivate it in order to own it outright. We ended up helping each other initially erect crude log cabins, although most of us spent the winter sleeping in the wagons.
Besides the remarriage of Madge and Gale, we soon celebrated another wedding. My mother met a doctor when we arrived in Oregon City. His wife had died of cholera on the journey west. They didn't court for long. My mother moved to Portland to live with her new husband. She keeps in touch with Cinna and Portia who have opened a shop there. One day she met Thom on the street. He told her that his wife Leevy had died in childbirth at Fort Laramie. The baby died shortly, thereafter.
Madge and Delly both gave birth to sons a couple of months after we arrived. My sister Prim went to live with Delly and Rye to help take care of the new baby, and do all their cooking. Later, Delly received cooking instructions from Sae, who lives nearby. Sadly, she still can't cook or bake.
Prim married Rory when she turned sixteen. He was sixteen, also, and far too young to apply for free land. But he was able to buy land outright because the little rocks he found in the stream in the Blue Mountains, the ones that Gale wanted him to discard on the side of the road, were actually gold nuggets. They started their family early. At age nineteen Prim is already pregnant with her third child.
Gale built a second house on his land for his mother Hazelle and his siblings. He has yet to regain all the memories of his lost year, but he has so many new recollections now with Madge and his three sons that he says it doesn't matter. Madge and I remain close. I'm so glad she played matchmaker for me. Even though I hated it at the time, it turned out to be the saving grace of my life.
It wasn't easy for me that first winter in Oregon. The end of the journey meant I couldn't run anymore from all the happenings that had occurred in my life over the past year. Thinking on those things while living in a rainy, dark environment caused me to fall into a depression. If it wasn't for Peeta and his relentless cheerfulness, I don't know if I would have survived. But when spring came, and the dandelions bloomed in the meadow behind our log cabin home, my spirits slowly began to lift. By summer I was expecting our daughter.
Peeta and I were farmers for four long years. Once the land was legally ours, Peeta turned to me and said he wanted to sell it. He wanted to move to town and open a bakery. It was an easy decision for me because I love the boy with the cake. Now we live above our shop with our daughter and newborn son. He still is sweet on me.
Before we started on our journey, Captain Abernathy had told us that life is a daring adventure or it is nothing. I never dreamed of the adventures I would encounter when my father pointed our wagon west.