Old Joe - Chapter 2
 By mosquito   •   29th Jul 2012   •   3,802 views   •   2 comments
Old Joe Horse StoryAs the sun grew higher in the sky, the dew dried on the grass, and the last few lingering clouds fluttered and disappeared. The bright blue sky – with that deep blue of a cold morning – changed to a softer hue, as a muggy haze began to crawl out of the west. I don’t mind working in the heat, but the trouble with Appalachian weather is the air gets so damp that your sweat don’t dry. It just froths and soaks into your harness, and before you know it you’re all chafed and rubbed and sore. Like I say, I don’t mind leanin’ into the harness when I have too, but when I get all galled up, it’s hard to find the strength.

And lean in we had to do. We followed the roads over familiar ground, up the mountains and through the Cumberland gap. I knew this road well; farmer Ben and I had made this trip – as far as Kentucky and Ohio – a few times. Sometimes when he needed seeds and couldn’t afford them back home, we’d head out this way to get the seed stock – they didn’t make as good a yield of crops as the southern grown stuff, but during the War they got real pricey and it was just easier to head out here for the prairie grown stuff.

Another time we came out to get some new medicine for Amy. That was a winter trip; I was grateful this time to at least not have to trudge knee-deep in snow, the ice packing in my hooves and sticking to the wagon wheels until the wagon was maybe twice what it weighed when we started. Those trips were all fine though; this is a good road with a good smooth top and there are plenty of inns to stop and rest along the way. I never got too much of a rest though; we were always hurried. Mostly Ben was scared to leave the family alone too long in case soldiers stumbled across the farm. It didn’t matter what side they were on; it made no difference – North or South, they took what they wanted each saying it was for the ‘Just Cause’ and they were only out to do us good in the long run. Or, when Amy got sick and we came across in the snow, I could tell Ben didn’t know if she’d be alive or dead when we got back. As it happened, by the time we did it was hard to tell, the little angel was so poor. Someone was lookin’ over her though and little Amy found her way back to us.

Bess had never been on these roads; she always stayed home and Ben and I took the wagon alone. I guess Ben figured if anything happened to us at least Mary could sell Bess and get a bit to keep them going. This was a good thing today; Bess was young and excited to see new lands, and she pulled well more than her weight through the mountains. I was grateful for her youth – with the wagon so full it would be a long trip of two weeks or more through this territory for me, and I didn’t have anything to get excited about yet.

Bess and I were happy to drop down out of the Appalachians into the more rolling slopes of Ohio, then out into the flats of Indiana and Illinois. This was now new to me. I had never seen anything so flat, and I envied the farm horses I’d see passing us on their way home from the fields. How easy it must be to plow out here! Never up, never down, the soil rich and soft, and no stumps to pull or rocks to catch your blades. They were well on their work too; shiny, muscular, well fed, and with a spring to their step that showed the war didn’t bring its frightened, sleepless nights and hungry winters out here. We stopped briefly at the roadside one sunny afternoon, and as Ben adjusted my harness, smoothing some Bickmore under my collar over my sores, I looked wistfully at him and wished I could suggest we just stop here to make our fortune. I knew we couldn’t though; those who could flee the east during the War did so, and these Illinois prairies were booming. I’d heard stories of a glorious new city – called Chicago I think – and of how horses didn’t have to pull wagons here anymore because of all the trains. There was no chance of getting land here now.

The first part of our journey - almost three months as it was – came to an end soon enough. I say it ended because we moved into something so new, so different from anything I’d ever seen before. Our road merged with another, then another, each time more wagons piled high with everything you could imagine would crown the tracks. No matter how wide the road got, it would soon fill and another road would join and our progress would be hindered by those in front going slow, or those behind going faster and yelling for us to pull over and let them pass.

The peacefulness of the thick oak and hickory forests of Cumberland were gone now; there was constant noise, and so much to see. Some of it fascinating, like strange musical instruments balanced high on heavy flatbeds, the brightly colored wagons of the medicine sellers or the fast high stepping horses racing past pulling light sulkies polished to high it hurt your eyes to look at them in the afternoon sun. Some of it was heavy on the heart though, like wagons and horses broken and beaten so early in their journey they were now just sorry wrecks at the side of the road, or the occasional grave markers that showed that even here this journey was not to be undertaken lightly. At times it was too much, and I wished my blinkers would just close over my eyes completely and block it all out.

We rolled in a great long convoy over one last crest and began a gentle downhill trek, with a vast valley before us and flatlands beyond as far as the eye could see. It was phenomenal; there was the biggest river I’d ever seen – it was like the great water I’d seen in Maryland when Ben went to the coast to meet a ship and get Mary the little piano she’d been praying for every Christmas since she was a little girl. Oh, how she grieved to leave that piano behind! This was just like that, a river, sure, but wide like the sea and moving slow and brown with the burden of its own water. On either side was a city, St. Louis, and even though I could tell it must be huge by the rows and rows of little houses and the trains coming in from all directions, it seemed dwarfed by the river that cut right through it like a spine, curving ever so gently as if it was just beginning to crush from the weight of Chicago on its shoulders to the north.

St. Louis. This was it, the point of no return. But it was already June; setting out for the west now would mean we’d have little chance to rest if we were going to beat the winter. Would we stay here and wait out the seasons and set off in the spring? Or would we reload and head off now, and hope we could make it before the first of the winter snows hit the mountains?
Horse News More In This Category:  Horse Fiction      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
Double Spur Ranch  
Great so far I love it!
  Jul 29, 2012  •  3,470 views
Amazing!!! it reads so well and with so much charachter!
  Aug 4, 2012  •  3,714 views
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