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The Weeping Willow
The color of the sky is changing from a cold, dusky black to alluring shades of yellow, orange, and pink. I can now see the outline of ships in the port waiting to be unloaded of its goods, as they all wonder if the beginning of day could be any closer so they can soon return back to sea. My ears can sense the sound of water dripping off rooftops after a nighttime rain onto the cobblestone road, as I roam down it admiring the beauty that surrounds me. So this is what San Francisco really looks like, I think to myself as I reach the bay where the ships are being held. I close my eyes for only a second to breath in the salty smell of the sea, and then I hear it, the sound of a faint voice.
“Nellie, come on it’s time to go,” the little voice utters. I open my eyes to find my younger sister, Vivian, standing over me.
“Viv, where are we?” I state, sitting up, “Are we in San Francisco?”
“No silly, we’re in Council Bluffs, remember?” she says helping me get out of bed, “We’re leaving today to go to California to mine for gold.”
Then it hits me, I wasn’t really in San Francisco, but in Council Bluffs, Iowa preparing to follow the Oregon-California Trail to California to search for gold. It must have only been a dream I had about being in San Francisco.
As Vivian heads out the door in our small inn room she says, “When you’re ready make sure you go and help Ma with Jessamina and Rebecca; they seem like they’re being difficult about getting ready to leave.”
Once she is gone, I slip on my blue cotton dress, and put my hair into a braid. Just as I’m about to walk out the door, my eye catches an image in the mirror. I stop and gaze into the mirror to look at the image of a young woman, with chocolate brown hair and emerald green eyes with freckles right below them, dotting her cheeks. So this is I, Nellie Bennett, a Bay Stater at heart, who is about to endure the most incredible journey of her life to a place of the unknown that is just waiting to be uncovered. Maybe I will become famous one day, for conquering this savage land out West and be put into history for eternal time.
“Nellie! Come on, I need help with the girls, so we can get on the trail before everyone else,” my ma calls out from the next room over, returning me back from my fantasies to the ever so present world.
“Coming Ma!” I say as I scurry next door to help her with my two youngest sisters Rebecca and Jessamina, who are six and three.
Once we finally get them ready to travel, we head outside to find our whole family, and the four other families we’re traveling with standing they’re waiting for us. Sitting outside the inn sits six wagons with four horses per wagon just waiting to begin their journey west. Ma, the girls, and I head over to the lead wagon, which belongs to our family. Already waiting there is my pa, my twin brothers, Levi and Lewis, and my older brother Harrison with his wife Jennie and their daughter Charlotte. I see my sister Vivian talking to her best friend, Stella Marcellus, at the next wagon over. As I’m watching Vivian, it hits me; where is Archie? Archie is my youngest brother who always seems to be running off somewhere. He just like me in many ways though; always wants to break the boundaries and do things his own way. I tell my parents and mad anxiety breaks out. As we’re running around, I try to think what I would be doing at a time like this. Then it pops into mind, the willow tree behind the inn. I race behind the inn and find Archie sitting there eating an apple, and reading a copy of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
As I rush over to where he is resting, I yowl at him, “Archie Bennett! What were you thinking running off like that when you knew we had to leave today for California!”
“Oh, I just wanted to finish my book,” he says with a yawn and another bite of his apple, “and I wanted to sit under a willow tree one last time before I never see one again.”
“What are you talking about, there are willow trees in California,” I remark.
A smile appears onto his face as he pronounces, “Oh, really? Ok, then I’m ready to hit the open road and make it to California!”
He stands up and I engulf him in a bear hug as we head back over towards the wagon. Once that issue was over we all load into our wagons and prepare to leave for our journey.
I look back and realize there is a man who is driving our supply wagon that I have never seen before so I ask my pa, “Who is that man driving the supply wagon?”
“Oh, that is Dr. Roderick Chapman,” he responds with confidence, “Jedediah Reid and I met him over at the local saloon, and we thought it would be a good idea to invite him to come along with us, so we would have a doctor if anyone were to get sick.”
So with that, we head out onto a journey with our wagon lreadingthe way, which has my pa, my ma, Harrison, Jennie, Charlotte, Levi, Lewis, Archie, Vivian, Rebecca, Jessamina, and me, all cramped into it. The wagon following us is the wagon of Simon and Emma Marcellus with their daughters, Stella and Liza. Next in the wagon train, is the wagon of Jedediah and Lorraine Reid with their children, Mary Frances, Ethel, Frederick, Warren, and Ralph. Gus and Amelia Luther’s wagon falls next in line with their sons, Jasper, Calvin, and Bryon. Bringing up the last of the family wagons is the wagon of Thaddeus and Sally Perry, with their daughters, Winnie, Lydia, and Hannah. Dr. Roderick Chapman and Peter Perry bring up the rear with the supply wagon.
As everyday goes by, we get ever so closer to reaching California. A month has gone by and we haven’t run into any trouble yet. I’m beginning to think this trip won’t take us five months after all. Today, while stopped in Nebraska, I was searching for a sack of flour in the supply wagon and I came across a trunk, and inside this trunk, to my amazement, was a whole library of books. There was everything from the Brontë sisters to Charles Dickens to Mark Twain to my favorite writer, Jane Austen. I was so enthralled about my find, I began to ask all around camp to figure out who the owner of the books were, but nobody seemed to know whom they belonged to. I would like to use these books to teach the younger children to read, but I don’t want to use them without the owner’s permission first.
When I was going to have a talk with Sally Perry about the books, I ran right into Dr. Chapman, “Oh, hello Dr. Chapman. I didn’t see you there. It was so rude of me to run into you like that,” I mumble with a look of embarrassment on my face.
“Oh, it’s quite alright, Nellie. I was the one not paying attention where I was walking,” he says while flashing a smile. “So where are you off to today?”
“I’m going to talk to Sally Perry about these books I found in a trunk in the supply wagon,” I utter, showing him the books I’m holding. “Do you know whose these might be?”
“Well, actually they are mine. Rreadingis my guilty pleasure, I didn’t think anybody would come across my stash; but I guess I was wrong,” he replies with a twinkle in his eye.
“Really, Dr. Chapman?” I respond with a sense of joy coming over me, “Do you think I could use them to help teach the younger children how to read?”
“Of course you can. You’d put them to better use then I ever would,” he says with a grin starting to bud across his face.
“Thank you! Thank you so much Dr. Chapman!” I exclaim with exceptional enthusiasm, as I run off to go tell Archie about my news.
As I’m rhapsodizing about how marvelous Dr. Chapman is to Archie, I notice something in the woods. “Hey, Archie do you see what I see over in the woods? Do those look like Indians to you?” I add with a grimace on my face.
“Nellie, they’re! We must go tell Pa about them,” he mutters as his voice cracks, “It looks like there are about ten of them. HURRY! We must go warn everyone before things get shoddy.”
As we dash to warn everyone I see an arrow go flying past my head and get stuck in the bole of a sapling.
The minute we reach Pa, he tells us to go round up all the women and the children and hide on the far side of the brae. I take Archie by the hand and we go like a bat out of hell to gather all the women and children up so we can hide behind the brae. When we reach the brae we can hear gunshots going off, and the screech of a human life being taken. We sit and pray that all our fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons are all in good health. The sounds of gunshots have now quieted and we slowly get up from our hiding place. The lune is shining down on the campsite and we can see a trail of blood inside the camp.
The instant we reach the camp, we all scatter to look for our loved ones. Everybody seemed to be in okay shape except for Gus Luther, who managed to get an arrow pierced into his left arm. I guess Amelia Luther has a low susceptibility because when she saw her husband she broke down into a full out bawl. We all tried to help her calm down but nothing seemed to work.
“Be calm everyone! This is nothing to worry, just a small puncture womb,” bellows a voice from the darkness and out walks Dr. Chapman, “Mrs. Luther, there is nothing to have an outburst about; I’ll have your husband bandaged up in no time, and he’ll be back to his old self.”
After this scene, we manage to get our camp back in order and we all dozed off for the rest of the night. A month has gone by and we are almost in Wyoming. Gus Luther healed flawlessly, and there was no evidence of infection. Then something strange started to happen after we passed the Platte River. It started with Ethel Reid who one day started to spew. That begin so, Jasper Luther, Winnie Perry, and Liza Marcellus all followed in her footsteps in the next couple days by spewing also. We all thought it was a stomach bug going around but once Lorraine Reid and Simon Marcellus displayed the same signs we knew it was something more then a stomach bug. We made one of the wagons the medical wagon so Dr. Chapman could do some tests on them to figure out what disease might be sprreadingthrough camp.
One evening when we all gathered around the campfire, Dr. Chapman emerged out of the medical wagon to discuss his findings, “It seems that they have contracted a disease known as cholera,” he stated in a strict manor.
“How did they contract it?” asked a very worried Emma Marcellus.
“My best estimation is when we stopped along the Platte River; they must of drank some of the grubby water, which is the main source for the disease,” he adds sincerely.
“How do you know it is cholera? Could it be something less serious?” asked my pa from the far edge of the campfire.
“Well it says here in my book, Medical Diseases, that people exposed to cholera may experience mild to severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. Fever is usually absent. All of them seem to have those exact symptoms,” he utters, as whispers arise within the groups, “But not to worry as long as the drink plenty of water and get enough rest they should be in full health in a matter of days.”
All six of them healed very swiftly and nobody else became sick from the disease. We traveled for another two months through a bit of Idaho and now we have reached Nevada. Tonight is a lovely summer night. I can feel the zephyr blowing on my neck, giving me the chills yet tranquilizing my whole body. As I watch the orange sun dip below the mountains, all I can think about is how the sunsets must be even more ravishing in California. I can’t even imagine that once I’m over those mountains my life will be anew. Tomorrow, we’re going to be crossing the Humboldt River so we can reach the Forty-Mile Desert. Dr. Chapman is letting me ride in his wagon so he can teach me how to bandage a gash in someone’s arm or leg. I’m almost like his assistant because when part of our group came down with cholera I was there helping the doctor heal them. He taught me all his skills he knows just in case we have another disease sweep over camp.
The Humboldt River is a not a very facile river to travel across. The rapids make it very difficult to travel with the amount of supplies we have in our wagons. Dr. Chapman and I have the most difficult task of trying to navigate the supplies over the fast-paced, rapid filled river and the rigid edges of colossal boulders. We decide to let all the other wagons travel through the river first, so we had time to map out our plan of action.
“So Nellie, how do you think we should make our way across the river?” says Dr. Chapman with a puzzled expression on his face like he is trying to figure out the most substantial problem in the world.
“Well it seems like over there seems to be calmest part of the river, but I don’t know how deep it might be,” I say as I point to a calm section of the river to my left. “But over there seems to be the shallowest part of the river, but the rapids seem to be truly strong,” I add pointing to a section to my right. “Which way do you want to go, Dr. Chapman?”
“I think the foremost way to go would be the shallow part of the river,” says Dr. Chapman.
So, we direct the horses towards the river. When our first set of horses reaches the river we realize we should have picked the other way but it is to late now. The horses are already engulfed in the rapids and are trying to fight against them.
“Nellie hold on this is going to be a bumpy ride! I don’t want you to go flying off this wagon!” Dr. Chapman screeches, but just as he says that we hit a boulder and the doctor goes flying right off the sit of the wagon.
“DR. CHAPMAN!” I cry out, “Dr. Chapman, where are you?” I look down to see the florid water carrying Dr. Chapman’s body down stream. “NO!” I cry, but I know it is no use; I know he is gone forever. I grab the reins and direct the now frantic horses across the river.
It’s taken me some time to get used to the fact that Dr. Chapman is gone. We made a grave for him when we reached the Humboldt Sink. His head stone read:
Dr. Roderick Chapman
A doctor who could have
done well in this world.
An exceptional life was lost,
but he will always be remembered
for the thing he best at:
We lost a significant amount of supplies when we crossed the Humboldt River. We are still about two weeks away from California and we are on our last sack of flour. The men now have to go hunt at night, just so we can have something decent to eat. We are now living off stale bread, insipid berries, and over-cooked venison. I think after watching deer being slaughtered so often, I might have to become a vegetarian. Archie seems to becoming down with something, but I can’t figure out what it is. Using Dr. Chapman’s Medical Diseases, I have narrowed down the options to typhoid, small pox, or cholera. I am hoping that he doesn’t have any of them but it doesn’t look good.
A week has passed by, but Archie’s condition is getting worse. We are about one week outside of California. I am praying that he can hold on ‘til we reach California, so we can get him to a doctor. I have determined that he has come down with cholera, but resting and drinking water doesn’t seem to be healing him.
“Nellie,” Archie cried to me days later, the vivacity gone from his voice, “If I don’t make it alive to California, will you make sure I get buried under a willow tree along a river. That’s all I want if I die.”
“Oh, don’t say that Archie,” I say holding back a weep, “We’re only two days away from California, and when we get there we’re going to bring you to a doctor and they are going to fix you right up.”
That put a smile right back onto his pale face and then he asked, “Will you read me The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper?”
“Of course I will,” I state, grabbing the book off the shelf in the wagon, “It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America….”
“Archie, look out the front of the wagon,” I order my brother helping him sit up, “There it is California, and you thought you weren’t going to make it here. I told you were going to make it. Now we can bring you to a doctor and you’re going to get better.”
“It is better then I could ever imagine, Nell,” he says using all the energy he has before, falling back onto his bed and dozing off.
We decided to settle in a gold mining camp known as Chucklehead Diggings. We set up camp along the outer edges of the town, and then go in search of a doctor. We searched for three days straight but there is not a single doctor in Chucklehead Diggings.
I was by Archie’s bedside one night when he clenched my hand and with a faint voice, uttered, “Nellie, I am going to tell you something, and you better always remember it as long as you live,” he crocks with a cough, “Nellie, you have always been my favorite sister, and I always wanted to do exactly what you did. I was always so proud when people said we looked like each other. I want to be buried under a willow tree along a river and for you to write my inscription on my headstone. Don’t try to talk me out of saying that I’m going to get better because I know I’m not. I love you, Nellie.”
“I love you too, Archie,” I whimper, and with that his hand releases from mine. I let out a wail as I see my youngest brother’s dead body lay in front of me. He was the buried two days later underneath a willow tree along a river just as he had wished. His head stone read:
A loving son and brother
He had a love for weeping
willow trees and of
literature and he will
forever be in our hearts
Everyday, I go to the store in town to buy things for the camp, and everything I see reminds me of Archie. An apple, a book, everything is just sitting there in the store taunting me about losing, Archie. Also, there is this man, I think his name is Jackson Anderson, he always seems to be at the store when I am. The prices of goods at the store are utterly ridiculous. A jar of pickles and two sweet potatoes costs $11, a needle and thread goes for $7.50, onions are $2 each, eggs are $3 a piece, and a barrel of flour costs $800. That is a lot more than it cost in ole Chelsea, Massachusetts.
When I went to get onions at the store, Jackson Anderson finally got the nerve to introduce himself, “You must be new in town, I am Jackson Anderson,” he proclaims.
“Oh, so I have heard,” I mummer under my breath.
“What was that?” he says looking offended.
“Oh, just that my name is Nellie Bennett,” I remark, putting on my best smile.
“Well it is quite nice to meet you, finally, Miss Bennett. If you are ever looking for someone to show you around I’m the one you should ask,” he says taking my hand and lightly kissing it. With that he was out the door.
Weeks go by and everyday Jackson Anderson would come and try to talk to me at the store, but I would scurry to the other side of the store or make it look like I was talking to someone else, so it didn’t give him the chance to talk to me.
One afternoon, I came to the store at a different time then my normal time because I need to get some coffee beans for Pa. I was looking at the beans when someone touched me shoulder and whispered into my ear, “Hey, beautiful. I haven’t talked to you in a while.” I spin around to see Jackson Anderson standing there with a smirk on his face.
“What do you want, Jackson?” I growl, turning back to look at the coffee beans.
“I want you,” he says faintly.
“What!” I state spinning around to look him in the face.
“You heard me right. I want you to be my bride,” he says with pride, like he is on the verge of owning me.
With that remark, I slap him across face and say proudly, “I will never marry you Jackson Anderson, even if you could bring my brother back, I would never do it.” With that statement I had just betrayed society, but I didn’t care there wasn’t a way I was going to marry a scum like that.
I stayed held up in my room for a week so there wouldn’t be a chance of me to run into Jackson or to have bad gossip being talked about me while I was standing right there. Archie would be proud of me for what I have done going against society. It would have been something he encouraged me to do.
When I finally decide I need to get out of the camp I decide to go to the store to get some apples, so I can make some apple cider. While at the store I feel someone tap me on the back, to find a girl I have seen around the store standing there.
“Sorry, to be a bother, but I’ve seen you around the store before, and I think that it is was really bold of you to tell Jackson Anderson off like that,” she utters with her eyes smiling at me. “My name is Sarah Ann Collins, by the way,” she adds.
“Why, thank you Sarah Ann, that is very thoughtful of you,” I say, feeling like someone actually understands me.
“He tried to propose to me the other day, but after I heard what you did, I had the courage to tell him off,” she responds.
We sit and talk for what seems like only fifteen minutes, but ended up being three hours! We decide to meet at the store everyday to tell stories about our lives and our dreams. It finally feels good to actually have a friend who understands me.
Pa stops me one day on my way out to go meet Sarah Ann. He says, “Nellie, I want you to come onto the gold mine fields tomorrow. We are running low on money, and I think it would be best if you came so I can have an extra pair of hands.”
“Of course, I’ll come Pa. Whatever I can do to help the family,” I mutter in a worried tone.
So the next day I head out to the gold mining fields with my pa. He goes, “One of the simplest methods of gold mining involves panning the river for nuggets, which is what you’ll be doing, Nellie,” Pa mentions on our way to the fields.
When we reach the mine, Pa leaves me at the river, so he can go join the other men in their other techniques of mining. I start doing pretty well, I figured out how to simply put my pan into the river and see what falls into it. After about three hours, I got frustrated with myself because I hadn’t found any gold yet. I was about to have an outburst when I see a striking young man, hreadingtowards me. He had sandy blonde hair and massive muscles peeking through the sleeves of his shirt. I pretend to look like I know what I’m doing but he still comes over.
“Um, excuse me miss, but I noticed you were having some trouble with your pan and I was wondering if you needed any assistance,” he voices in a sweet New York accent.
“Oh, really you don’t have to do that,” I say feeling quite embarrassed.
“No, really it would be my pleasure, miss. The name is John Wesley,”
he says sticking out his hand.
“Nellie Bennett,” I say shaking his hand kindly.
He helped me that day, and taught me how to pan for gold properly. I guess just sticking the pan in the water doesn’t really work. He promised me that the next time I came mining he would help me, and he kept that promise. So everyday I would come to the mines and John and I would sit along the riverbank and talk about our lives, dreams, and fantasies. Everyday I spend with him makes me wonder how I ever lived my life without him.
After many months of keeping inside, I decide to confess my feelings about John to him. I start by saying, “John these past months have been incredible, and talking to you has really helped me get over the death of Archie. What I’m about to tell you is something I have been wanting to tell you forever. If you don’t feel the same way I’ll understand, but John Wesley… I love you,” I mutter quietly looking away so I can’t see his reaction.
“I love you too, Nellie, and I want to marry you,” says John lifting my chin, so I’m looking right into his hazel eyes. I am in complete shock. My eyes begin to water.
“Yes, I would love to marry,” I chock up before I start to cry tears of joy.
In the following months John and I prepare for the wedding. My ma gives me her wedding dress to wear, and Pa gives his suit to John to wear. We decide to be married underneath a willow tree in honor of Archie, so he can join us for the wedding, even if it’s only in spirit. The day before the wedding John and I go mining one last time before we become newlyweds. We go to the spot where we met along the riverbank and start to mine there. That is where we found it, a whole deposit of gold.
“EUREKA!” screeches John, as I rush over to see what he found. There lay a whole deposit of gold. “We’re going to be rich,” he proclaims.
“Do you know how much gold is going for?” I exclaim, “A pinch of gold is worth $1, an ounce is worth $16, a small glass of gold is worth $100, and a large glassful is worth $1,000. How much do you think is there?”
“We’re just going to have to find out, when we bring it to the bank,” says John.
There ended up being $1,000 worth of gold in the deposits. It was the best wedding present we could have ever wished for. The next day, John and I were married under a willow tree. We announced to our families that we decided to use our $1,000 to move to San Francisco, the town I’ve always dreamed of living in. So, the next week we gathered all our things and moved into an apartment above an abandoned restaurant. One day while walking down the port an idea pops into my head. Why don’t we open a restaurant for all the sailors and merchants, in the abandoned restaurant below our apartment.
John and I spent the next three months making the restaurant look just the way we want it to. We decide to call it Archie’s Place, because the menu features all of Archie’s favorite meals. The menu lists the following meals and prices: Mexican (beef), prime cut, $1,50; Mexican up along, $1; plain, with one potato, fair size, $1.25; Baked beans, plain, $0.75; Hash, 18 carats, $1. Codfish balls, per pair, $0.75; Grizzly roast, $1; Jackass rabbit, whole, $1.
We opened on the date of Archie’s death, and we were a hit among the sailors. That night I had a funny dream that I could swear I’ve had before. It started out with the color of the sky changing from a cold, dusky black to alluring shades of yellow, orange, and pink. I can now see the outline of ships in the port waiting to be unloaded of its goods, as they all wonder if the beginning of day could be any closer so they can soon return back to sea. My ears can sense the sound of water dripping off rooftops after a nighttime rain onto the cobblestone road, as I roam down it admiring the beauty that surrounds me.
I remember now! That was the exact same dream I had the day we left Council Bluffs, Iowa to go to California. As I am admiring the scenery in this dream though, I swore I saw a pair of angel of wings behind the old willow tree, but when I went to go look there was nothing but a half-eaten apple and a copy of Frankenstein lying there.