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Prairie's Children, Return to the West -- Chapter 3
Submitted by Starla Anne on Thu, 09/23/2010 - 21:33
Return to the West
“Why can’t I carry my horse?” screamed Ruth as she confronted the railroad station agent.
“Because you are riding as a passenger and we cannot put horses in our baggage car,” stated the agent softly, attempting to hold his temper.
“I need to go west and I am already too far behind now. Riding a horse is too slow.”
“Just cannot do it,” replied the agent as he turned his back and walked away.
Ruth was trying to speed up her journey, hopefully to catch the kidnappers before they got too far away. Disgusted, she sat down on the railroad station’s platform. An older gentleman walked up, dressed in clothing that had long ago needed to be replaced. He did not have a beard, but it was clear he had not shaved in a few days. He sat beside Ruth.
“Couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” the older man mentioned.
“Oh well, life is what it is and we cannot change it,” answered Ruth.
The older man sat there a moment in silence. Finally he said, “My name is Charles. You from around here?”
“My name is Ruth and I am from Blountsville. I need to go west and catch up with some people very quickly.”
Charles thought for just a moment. “If you must catch a train and carry your horse, see me around here about dark. I think I may be able to help.”
‘What could this man do?’ thought Ruth, but she answered, “Okay, if you think it can be done,”
Charles smiled. “It can be done.”
It was late afternoon. Ruth found a store to purchase some feed for her horse and a few items to satisfy her hunger. She wanted to be conservative with her money and stretch it out as far as she could, so visiting a restaurant was considered to be too expensive. She spent some time walking around town, leading her horse by the reins, ocassionally sitting down to rest.
The sun began to set behind the mountains, so Ruth casually made her way back to the train station. The station agent was gone and everything looked deserted. Ruth was beginning to think Charles was a little ‘touched in the head’ when the man appeared out of nowhere.
“Follow me,” was all he said as he walked toward toward a loading platform. Ruth followed him to a platform. Charles stopped in front of an open door to a boxcar.
“This is it,” he said.
“W-What?” stammered Ruth.
“This is how you can transport your horse and ride, too.”
“They unloaded the car this morning and I checked and it will be picked up tonight -- going west.”
“But, how do you know where it is going?” questioned Ruth.
“Let’s just say I have my sources,” smiled Charles.
Ruth wondered about the situation. She knew she had to make some time westward and there seemed to be no other way. The avenue Charles had provided seemed very enticing.
“Is this legal? Who do I pay?”
“No, dear,” replied Charles. “It is not legal, but I ride the rails this way all the time and so do a lot of people.”
Ruth looked at Charles, then looked at the boxcar. How was he so sure which direction the train was going to take this car? He said he had his sources. What sources? Who was this man? She knew she had to do something -- legal or illegal.
“Okay, you gonna ride with us?” asked Ruth.
“Yep, I am going too,” answered Charles.
That was a different matter. How did she know she could trust him not to attack her on the way? Charles had torn and tattered clothing. The way he smelled indicated that he probably had not taken a bath in months. It was evident that he did not have any money. Did he know about the money she was carrying -- almost $10?. Well, life was full of chances and she did have a gun in her saddlebags. She decided to take a chance.
Once aboard the boxcar, Charles said, “Let’s get over here out of sight” as he walked toward one end of the empty boxcar.
“Well, if any trouble comes up, I will be ready,” said Ruth, using that as an excuse to strap on her revolver to bluff Charles in case he tried anything.
Charles’ eyes grew wide in amazement, but he did not object.
The couple waited for what seemed like hours. Suddenly they felt a jolt. Charles had been asleep, but Ruth had kept her eyes open, uncertain what Charles may attempt to do to her.
Suddenly awaking, Charles remarked, “Well, looks like we will be on our way.”
As the morning dawned, Ruth and Charles sat just inside the open door of the boxcar watching the scenery as the train sped its way westward. Charles was advising Ruth on the dangers of riding the rails, particularly avoiding the railroad police.
“What happens to you if you are caught?” asked Ruth.
“Sometimes a man will be sentenced to hard labor working on the railroad. I don’t know what they would do to a woman. Haven’t run into that yet,” answered Charles.
“Have you ever been caught?”
“No, not yet. There is an old saying, ‘the bull ain't caught you because he didn't want to catch you.’ That may be true. I dunno. The main thing I do is to wait outside of the train yard, watch the activity, and scan the extent of the yard and I usually find an area away from activity. That makes it easier to catch a train. If a man is careful, he is usually successful. A yard bull can be a bad road.”
Ruth was trying to keep up with Charles’ hobo slang. The terms “yard bull” and “bad road” was confusing, but she seem to interpret his language enough to get the general idea; mainly a person is to prevent having trouble from some railroad police. However he lost her when he started talking about riding a “possum’s belly”.
Charles seem to recognize Ruth’s confusion by stating a “possum’s belly” was riding riding the deck under a passenger’s coach.
“I am so sorry. I will try to talk your language. Okay?” Charles asked.
“The main thing is to watch out for the railroad dick that ride the rails, too.” stated Charles. “Sometimes you may have to outrun him.”
Around noon, the train stopped to take on water for the steam locomotive. Peering out the door from an angle, Charles put a finger to his lips.
“Shhh”, he whispered. “Here comes a railroad bull now. Get over into that corner and stay quiet and maybe he will pass us by.”
Ruth could remained quiet, but her horse began pawing. Evidently he was not happy being pulled into corner.
“Keep that horse quiet,” whispered Charles.
Ruth tried to quieten the horse, but he continued to paw and also to whinny. That did it! The railroad policeman investigated the sound. “What are you doing in there?” he yelled.
Quickly Charles spoke to Ruth, “I am leaving, but you stay put. He may not bother you much because you are a lady.”
With that remark, Charles leaped out the other side of the boxcar and made his way into a thick forest. Ruth sat still, holding to the reins of her horse, not knowing what to do.
“Get out of there -- you and your mule,” sarcastically screamed the railroad policeman.
“I can’t. My horse no platform to step on and he may hurt himself,” replied Ruth.
“I SAID, GET OUT OF THERE!”
“I can, but my horse cannot.”
“I will get him out of there,” answered the railroad policeman as he climbed into the boxcar.
Pulling the horse to the open door, the railroad policeman fired a pistol into the air causing the horse to jump from fright and landing on the bend of his leg, rolling over to the side.
“You broke his leg!” screamed Ruth as she ran to examine her horse.
“It is nothing to me. Don’t let me catch you on a train again,” remarked the railroad policeman as he walked away. Ruth examined her horse’s leg.
“Oh, my poor Spirit,” weeped Ruth, speaking to her horse by name. There was not anything she could do for him. Only one choice left and she did not want to take it. She realized that was the only thing to do, so she pulled her pistol from the holster.
Crying, she said “I am so sorry, Spirit. I love you so much.”
With tears blinding her eyes and a heavy, sorrowful heart, she cocked her gun, pointed it toward the horse’s head and slowly pulled the trigger. In a moment, it was over. She walked over to a fallen tree and sat down, head bowed and cried aloud, “Oh Lord, why? Why must it be this way?”
She heard the train as it began to move. Ruth did not look up. She hated the train, the railroad and tried to hold back the hate of the railroad policeman. She knew it was wrong to hate, but why was he so heartless? Why this? All she wanted was to find her baby and bring Maudie back home.
Ruth closed her eyes on her tears and prayed. Slowly, without realizing it, sleep came overcame her and she slowly slid down in a prone position. She dreamed she was in a field of green grass and flowers. She could see Spirit as he trotted to her, stopped and nuzzled Ruth under her arm. She put her arm around Spirit’s neck and said, “My Spirit, I love you so much.”. Hopping on Spirt’s back without a saddle, they traveled across the green pasture, sun shining brightly.
As they rode, Ruth's long hair flowed like a rushing stream, her heart filled with delight. Her mind was one with Spirit, traveling over rolling hills dotted with wild flowers among the grass. The world was bright and cheerful, more than Ruth had ever imagined, evidenced by the huge smile on her face, almost to the point of joyful laughter. All the cares of the world vanished and the moment consisted of only her and Spirit. The cool breeze against her face was refreshed with each gallop. Nothing else mattered. The love between a young girl and her horse could not be denied.
Arriving at a scope of woods, Spirit stopped. Ruth seemed to sense Spirit saying, “I must leave you now. I have to go, but remember -- God sees your sorrow and our love has not gone unnoticed. I will be waiting for you on the other side of these woods. Your journey will be filled with thorns and briars, but you will come out on the other side.”
Ruth woke from her slumber and discovered darkness had fallen. She wiped the tears from her eyes and thought about the dream. It had seemed so real. Was she being told that animals that people love in this life will be in Heaven? Will Spirit be there to welcome her? She had never heard a preacher mention that -- and neither had her mother. She had no idea what the Bible said about it.
Ruth began to gain some comfort from the thought. Surely the dream had a meaning. When she had pulled the trigger to end Spirit’s life, she had wondered if Spirit understood that she did it out of love -- there was not anything else to do to ease the suffering -- alone in the middle of nowhere without hope of any help.
Maybe Spirit understood.
Yes -- maybe he did.
She did not know where she was or which direction she needed to travel. There was only one thing to do -- follow the railroad until she could find a farm house, town, or something that could point her into the right direction.
She had did not have any implement to bury Spirit and that hurt deep inside. She managed to retrieve her saddlebags and began her long walk, stumbling often in the dark. She knew she had to keep going. She had to find her child, even if it took years.
--- To be continued
The story continues on:
Copyright 2010 by Starla Anne Lowry