“How can I assist you, Charles?” she said quietly, unwilling to meet his gaze but aware of the force of his first name on her tongue.
His voice was low and crushing when it reached her. “You’re not going to be able to do it.” Mary, don’t you see? My heart had been frozen over in that river for a long time. There’s nothing left of me that can be saved.”
Mary, on the other hand, was not easily swayed by gloomy comments. She grasped his hand again, kissing his knuckles despite his refusal to look at her. “I don’t believe that,” she stated emphatically.
And she made a pledge with her words.
She had assumed she wanted to love Stanton rather than save him, but now she realised the two could be synonymous.
Even still, she remembered as she walked away from him that there was one person who would never be saved. That night, Mary made a quick and silent prayer for Lydia, the unfortunate beauty who had been locked in time, and the unborn child who would never be known.
The early autumn heat had finally broken, releasing cool northerly winds that blew clean the blankets and waggon coverings, infusing new life into the gathering. Stanton had located them and given supplies. Tamsen should have been in a better mood. The others only looked at her for a few seconds these days, with a mixture of heat and loathing in their eyes, but she could live with it.
She didn’t care whether she was shunned or despised as long as she had her children.
The visions of men with caked, chapped, hideous flesh, burning alive—of sweet Halloran transformed ugly and filthy, clutching at her, hungering for her—should have faded away. However, they hadn’t. She couldn’t decide if the menace she’d seen—creeping, dancing shadows—was genuine or the insane creation of a mind twisted by a dreadful secret, something almost as horrifying as the creatures she’d seen.
Elitha, who babbled about the voices of the dead to everyone who would listen, and the younger girls, she couldn’t trust to back up her assertions.
They had no idea what they’d seen—it had all been a cloud of movement and panic that culminated in a blaze of smoke and flame.
There was a giddy feeling in the air now, but it unnerved her—it was like a drunk gambler down to his last cent. Tamsen recognised that hope, especially when handed to desperate hands, might be quite harmful.
The Sierra Nevada was still ahead of them, looming in evergreen and rich purple, capped in white, already holding up their arms to the first temptations of winter. She was constantly astounded by how the others appeared to overlook the obvious: that the mountains, like so many other beautiful things in the world, were dangerous.
She tried to hear every stray noise tonight. When she heard rising voices approaching the tent, she was tossing fretfully under her bridal quilt, laying on the hard ground in a restless half sleep. As she groped for her dressing robe, she jostled George’s shoulder—how did the man sleep so soundly? As she walked out of the tent, George tripped over her own feet.
Charlie Burger, the teamster who’d been protecting their tent, was on the ground wrestling with William Pike, Lavinah Murphy’s son-in-law, much to her astonishment. Tamsen had been wary of travelling with Mormons after reading newspaper tales of battles over township control in Missouri and even in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Murphy’s family, on the other hand, was nice and well-behaved, and had made no attempt to convert anyone. The riverboat engineer William Pike, who was married to one of Lavinah’s daughters, was one of the last individuals Tamsen would suspect of stealing. But how else could he have been detained outside their tent in the dead of night? Was it something to do with the supplies? Everyone had been concerned about their food supplies.
Pike, on the other hand, wrenched free of Burger and lunged at Tamsen. When a warm gob of Pike’s spittle landed on Tamsen’s cheek, Burger had just managed to detain him for the second time.
“Can you tell me where he is?” “How did you deal with him?” Pike became enraged and yelled at her. Tamsen would have assumed Pike was inebriated if she hadn’t known better. His hair was wild, and his face was crimson and tear-streaked. This entire thing was illogical. She concluded the Murphys and Pikes had no incentive to take food; as far as anyone knew, they still had a sufficient supply. And he was yelling at her like she was the one who had stolen something from him.
“How does he know what he’s talking about?” George inquired, his fists pressing over his weary eyelids. Betsy was talking to an unseen youngster to go back to bed when George’s brother Jacob and Jacob’s wife, Betsy, emerged from their tent.