Like a River Glorious Page 3

“You got ten minutes,” the man calls out. “If any of you start loading guns, we start shooting.”

“That’s a deal,” Tom says. “We’ll be away before you know it.”

I can hardly believe my eyes when Becky Joyner pops up from behind a large boulder, baby over her shoulder. She boldly hastens to the campfire and, using her free hand, starts chucking things into the back of the wagon—the still-hot griddle, the water bucket, the baby’s blanket. Though the air is crisp, sweat sheens her face, and short strands of blond hair have curled wet against her neck.

When no one shoots at Becky, Hampton appears from behind a large tree trunk. “I’ll fetch the oxen and hook them up,” he says.

“I’ll help,” says Otto, crawling out from under the wagon.

Major Craven hobbles out with his crutch from behind the same boulder Becky used for cover and hurries toward his tent to pack it up. I’ve no time to mark the others, because I’m already dashing back into the trees to fetch Jefferson.

Jeff has pulled himself to his feet. He leans against the tree trunk, and his breaths are fast and shallow. The bloodstain has spread down the side of his trousers.

“Don’t think I can ride,” he gasps as I wrap one of his arms around my shoulders to bolster him. “Just get me into the wagon.”

We stumble through the trees. He’s so tall now, and heavy enough that my thighs burn. When did he get so big?

“Jasper!” I holler as we near the wagon. “Jeff’s been hurt!” Everyone is scurrying around, working fast. The sides of the canvas bonnet are rolled up for easy loading, and the bed is already nearly full. “Jasper!”

The young doctor comes running, along with several others. He waves them off. “No, no, keep working,” he says. First thing in the morning, and Jasper is in a starched white shirt, as clean as a groom at his wedding. He’s got some odd notions about dirt for a miner, but maybe not so odd for a doctor. He insists that keeping himself clean saves lives.

Jasper’s eyes are narrowed, assessing, even before he reaches us. Together we lower Jefferson to the ground and roll him onto his side. Olive Joyner stands over us, rag doll clutched in one hand. “I’ll get your kit,” she says, calm as a woman grown, and she dashes away.

“Bullet’s not in me, Doc,” Jefferson pants out.

“I’m no doctor,” Jasper says as he peels the shirt away from the wound. “Just studying to be one.” His voice is calm and soothing, like bullets haven’t just been flying willy-nilly.

“You’re all the doc we need,” the Major says. He taps his wooden leg against a rock. Jasper amputated the Major’s leg to save his life on our journey west.

The strange man’s voice rings out from the trees. “Didn’t mean to hurt nobody! It were an accident!”

“Well, you shouldn’t be shooting at stuff if you’re so cussed bad at it!” I holler back, and Jasper gives me a dark glance that looks so much like Mama’s stop-antagonizing-people-or-else face that it puts a lump in my chest.

Jefferson hisses as Jasper starts poking around. I refuse to look at the wound, focusing instead on Jeff’s pale face. “You’re going to be fine,” I tell him, though I’ve no idea if it’s true.

“Course I am,” he says through clenched teeth, but he reaches for my hand. I grab it and squeeze tight.

Olive hurries back, blond braids swinging, Jasper’s medicine chest banging against her knees. The chest is nearly half the size of the girl, and it’s a wonder she lugged it here so fast.

Jasper pours water from his canteen over Jefferson’s flank. Though I’ve never had a stomach for injuries, I can’t help glancing at the wound. It’s a jagged tear in the skin, still bleeding freely, but it’s small. Jefferson was right. The bullet just grazed him, taking a chunk of skin with it.

“You are going to be just fine,” I say in relieved wonder.

“Told you so,” Jefferson says.

Jasper follows the water with a liberal dose of Hawe’s Healing Extract, but I turn away when he pulls out a wicked needle and some thread.

Olive, on the other hand, stares transfixed. “That’s how I sewed Dolly’s pinafore,” she says.

“Skin feels a little different than calico under the needle,” Jasper says to her. “But if you can sew a pinafore, you can stitch a wound.”

Jefferson’s fingers squeeze the bones of my hand together as the needle pierces his skin.

“I could do that,” Olive says.

Jasper ties a knot and snips the leftover thread. “Tell you what. Next time Lee or Jefferson bags a rabbit, we’ll practice some stitches on the bullet hole.”

“Okay, Jasper!”

I stare at the girl. Such a quiet little thing, who gets teary-eyed at the slightest provocation. But I guess everyone is brave about something.

“All right, Jefferson,” Jasper says as he ties off the wrapping. “It bled a good bit, so I want you to ride in the wagon until I know that wound is sealing properly. But you should be fine.”

Jeff winces as we help him to his feet. “Thanks, Doc,” he says.

The strange man’s voice hollers out, “I reckon it’s all right if you need a few more minutes, given that you have an injury.”

Our camp is already packed up. We’ve had to move fast before, and everyone knows exactly what to do. Major Craven is near the wagon tongue, checking the oxen harnesses. “At least they don’t seem keen to murder us all,” he grumbles.

“Stupid men can be just as dangerous as murderous ones,” I tell him.

“More dangerous, often as not,” he says, and he helps us shove Jefferson onto the wagon bench.

Hampton approaches, Peony and Sorry saddled up and trailing behind him, and I’m so relieved to see them both. I grab Peony’s reins and plant a kiss on her pretty white nose. “Just a bunch of fuss and noise, girl,” I tell her, and true to form, she tosses her blond mane, more annoyed than frightened.

“The sorrel’s got a small gash on her foreleg,” Hampton says. “Must have panicked when the guns went off. I think she’s fine, though.”

“Can’t ride her, anyway,” Jefferson says.

“I’ll lead her instead of tying her to the back of the wagon,” Hampton says. “Otherwise that gash will fill with dust.”

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