The tall, young man sat upon his horse and gazed down the trail that he’d been travelling on. The trail was steep and rough and it wasn’t the best road for anyone to journey on, especially someone in a wagon. A man with a good team of mules and years of experience could navigate it but he’d have to do it slowly and carefully. For a homesteader it was suicidal. Still it was the only route up out of the valley and down into the foothills of western California and out of necessity people used it.
The covered wagon had lost a wheel. The wheel had come off on the down slope side of the trail. The wagon had pitched towards the open precipice that was there. The only thing keeping the wagon from going over was the team of four mules still harnessed to it. The mules were standing as still as they could; given the situation they were in. They looked like they hadn’t budged a muscle since the accident. It must have happened just recently. There were cries of fright, panic, and pain coming from inside the wagon. The rider put his heels to his mount and rode on.
The rider tethered his mount about twenty feet down the trail from the disabled wagon. Once he’d done that he stood for a moment and assessed the situation. He could tell that the mules weren’t very happy bearing the weight of the wagon as they were and he also knew that sooner or later something would give and that wagon would go over the side. He needed to do something about it and he needed to do something fast. He reached for the coil of rope that hung from his saddle and then he headed towards the mules and the wagon. As he slowly advanced toward it, he called out to the occupants of the wagon.
“Hello the wagon,” the tall man shouted, “I’m a friend and I’ve come to help. For now though, don’t move about where you are. I’m going to try to tie off the wagon to keep it from going over the side.”
The mention of the wagon going over the side started some high pitch shrieking and wailing. The man shook his head and called out again.
“Calm down and don’t move about,” he told the occupants of the wagon. “If you shout and scream and make a fuss then you’ll spook your mules and that’ll just make matters worse. Just be calm and give me a few minutes to tie off the wagon and maybe get a brace under it. Then I’ll give you a hand getting out of the wagon.”
This time there wasn’t as much wailing and crying but there was some whimpering heard. The man just accepted that it was the reality of the thing and pressed on a best he could. He slowly walked by the mules, trying not to startle them and he headed towards the driver’s box of the wagon. As he did, he started looking for some place to tie off his rope. He quickly decided not to tie it to the inside front wagon wheel opposite the one that had come off. He didn’t think the axle hub would take the strain. He’d have to find a more secure spot on the body of the wagon that wouldn’t give way once the weight of everything was transferred to it. It took him a few minutes to find such a spot but he eventually did.
Once he had the working end of the rope tied off and cinched, the man turned and headed towards the uphill slope of the trail. There were plenty of trees lining the slope and some of them had a good size trunk. As it was, luck was with the man and his rope was long enough to reach one of the big pines. He was able to wrap the length of his rope around the base of the tree a few times and to cinch it tight before he finally tied it off. He hoped it would be enough. Brushing his gloved hands together he looked back at the wagon and assessed the situation again. That was when he spotted another length of rope hanging from the side of the wagon box. He also spotted an axe. Immediately he found a use for both items. As he walked back towards the wagon he called out again.
“Hello the wagon,” the man said calmly and firmly, “I’ve tied off the front of your wagon to a big old pine tree so you should be okay now. Still I don’t want you moving about in there. I’m going to put another rope onto that wagon of yours and then I’m going to borrow your axe and cut me a post to use as a brace. It’s going to take a bit of time so you’re just going to have to be patient. Once I’ve done that I should be able to get you out of the wagon and safely onto the ground.”
In reply a weak okay came from within the wagon. It sounded like a woman’s voice but the man couldn’t really tell. It could have been a young girl’s voice instead. It still had a considerable hint of fear still in it. The man decided he needed to hurry up.
Finding a spot to the rear of the wagon to secure a rope took a little time and effort. Eventually the man tied it around the rear axle hoping that it would hold when the weight of the wagon shifted. He then played out the rope once more as he walked back up slope in search of a stout anchor point. Again the man ended up tying the rope about a tall pine tree. Once that was secure the man went in search of some saplings that he could use to brace the down side of the wagon. It didn’t take him long to find a small stand of birch trees. With the axe taken from the wagon he cut down a tree that was about three inches in diameter. Then after eyeballing the wagon and the terrain it was sitting on the man chopped the trunk into three segments. Once he’d done that he pulled each segment over to where the wagon stood. Once all three pieces were lying on the uphill side of the disabled wagon the man called out to the occupants once again.
“Hello the wagon,” the man said once more in a loud and clear voice, “I’ve secured the back end of your wagon and I’ve cut myself a few braces. I’m asking that you stay patient inside that wagon for a few more minutes I’m going to be slipping around to the other side of the wagon and that might prove dangerous for me. I don’t need any wailing and crying to distract me or to frighten your mules. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” a reply came from within the wagon. It was definitely a woman’s voice.
“All right then ma’am,” the man responded with confidence in his voice, “this should only take a few more minutes and then I’ll get you out of that wagon. You just hold on and keep patient.”
With that the man slid the three pieces of trunk under the body of the wagon. He also slid the axe that he’d used under it as well. There was plenty of clearance even with the wagon leaning the way it was towards the down slope side. There was at least three feet. Still he didn’t dare crawl under after the wood and the axe. There was just so much that he was willing to risk. Instead he worked his way about the rear of the wagon and then along the down slope side, holding onto the wagon as he went. There was room to move about but there wasn’t much and the precipice dropped off sharply. It was then that he spotted the driver of the wagon.
The driver had obviously been pitched from the wagon when the wheel had given way. The man had been flung out into open space and he’d fallen to the bottom of the precipice. The distance wasn’t that great; no more than thirty feet or so but the terrain was rocky at the bottom and the man had hit hard. It was obvious that he was dead. The young man sighed upon seeing the dead man but he kept the information to himself for the time being. Instead the young man focused on the job at hand.
It wasn’t a professional job but the young man did the best he could. He jammed two of the braces up forward of the front axle and the third one directly behind it in such a manner that he hoped that they would keep the wagon from tipping over once the young man tried to shift the wagon away from the edge. He used the back of the axe head as a mallet to help pound the braces into the ground. Then he worked his way back along the side of the wagon until he was at the rear again. Once there he called out to the wagon one more time.
“Hello ma’am,” the young man said in a normal voice, trying not to shout this time. “I’ve got the wagon tied off and I’ve got the front end braced. I want you to remain where you are while I lower the tailgate and see how best to get you out of there. We need to do this nice and slowly. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” the woman’s replied a moment later. In addition to the answer the young man could hear some whimpering and sniffling going on. It was obvious that the woman wasn’t alone in the wagon. From the sound of it there were young children with her. With a sigh the young man got back to work.
Dropping the tailgate of the wagon took a little effort. Who ever closed it up last time had lashed the backend of the canvas cover to it to help keep out the elements as they travelled. It was a bit of an inconvenience but the young man dealt with it with the help of his bowie knife. Once that had been tended to, the young man unhooked the tailgate and dropped it. The first thing he saw was disarray. A wide variety of items were strewn about in the back of the wagon. The second thing he saw were three faces looking at him filled with fear and with hope.
“How do you do ma’am?” the young man asked politely, just as if he’d just met the woman at a church social or something. “My name is Benjamin Hart. My friends just call me Ben. Now I know you don’t know me from Joseph but I’m a friendly fellow and I don’t mean you any harm. My plan is that I’m going to help your kids out of the wagon first and then I’ll give you a hand. What do you think about that?”
“I think that would be a very good idea Mr. Hart,” the woman declared in a trembling voice. “Just please don’t delay it any longer. I fear I might be going into labour.”
Ben Hart helped the woman’s son out of the wagon first. He had to pull a few items out of the way first but most of them weren’t very heavy or awkward. Once a path was cleared Ben had the boy crawl over to him slowly. The boy looked to be about six years old. His eyes were red and puffy and his nose was runny. The kid told Ben that his name was Jacob Fuller when Ben took him in his arms and helped lift him to the ground. When the boy started to move away from the wagon, Ben grabbed a hold of him.
“Stay here Jacob,” Ben told the boy in a low voice, “and give me a hand with your little sister.”
Obediently the boy did as he was told. He stood by Ben as the young man helped little Martha Fuller out of the back of the wagon. The little girl was about three years old and she had bright red hair. Ben lifted her gently to the ground and then he gave both of the children some instructions.
“Jacob,” Ben said firmly to the little boy, “I want you to hold onto Martha’s hand and lead her over to that big rock over there, just down the trail. I want the two of you to sit there and be good while I help your mama out of the wagon. Can you do that for me boy?”
“Yes sir,” Jacob answered in almost a whisper of a voice, looking up at Ben as he replied.
“Then go and do it and be good,” Ben told the boy, sending him on his way. “I’ll have your mama on the ground in a minute.”
“Now Missus Fuller,” Ben said to the woman once the kids were where he’d told them to go and sit, “it’s time to help you out of there. Has anything fallen upon you or are you hurt? You said you thought you were in labour; has your water broken? Can you move on your own or do you need me to crawl in there and give you a hand?”
“I’m all right Mr. Hart,” Mrs. Fuller responded with a look of embarrassment on her face. “I think I can manage on my own.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve embarrassed you ma’am,” Ben apologized sincerely when he suddenly realized what he’d asked the woman. “I know you might find it improper of a man to ask such things but I did so out of concern for you. I’ve got a few sisters back home and all of them have had children. You kind of pick such things up when they get together and chat about their children’s births.”
“You needn’t apologize, Mr. Hart,” Mrs. Fuller replied looking even more awkward about things than she’d been before. “I’m sure you meant nothing by your words and it is obvious that you only spoke out of concern. No my water hasn’t broken yet but I’ve been having pains all day and I suspect that I’m close to my time. Still I can scoot myself over to where you are without much effort so no you don’t need to crawl in here and help me more. I will need your help to get me on the ground.”
With that Mrs. Fuller started shifting herself towards the tailgate of the wagon. She did so very slowly and with much trepidation. The wagon actually shifted a bit as she moved but not by much. It gave both Ben and Mrs. Fuller a bit of a scare but that was all it did. Eventually Mrs. Fuller got to the tailgate and Ben helped lower her to the ground.
“Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Hart,” Mrs. Fuller said once her feet touched the ground. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you came along.”
“It’s my pleasure ma’am,” Ben replied bringing his free hand up and touching it to the brim of his hat. “Shall I help you over to where your children are waiting?”
“You may Mr. Hart,” Mrs. Fuller replied in a low voice, gazing up at Ben as she spoke, “but I would have you tell me about my husband first. It has been a while and you haven’t mentioned him yet. I heard him scream when the wagon collapsed. Is he dead?”
Ben sighed in response to the question and looked away instead of answering the woman directly. Still his action told Mrs. Fuller what she wanted to know. The woman sighed as well.
“Did he suffer?” Mrs. Fuller asked next.
“I don’t think so ma’am,” Ben replied returning his gaze to the woman. “From what I could see, your husband died instantaneously. You don’t have to worry about that. Now if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you over to your children so I can see to getting this wagon back on the road.”
The wagon had to wait. There were other things that needed tending to first. Making a camp for the Fuller family was one of those things. Ben knew that even if he got the wagon back on the trail that day that the wagon wasn’t going anywhere without the wheel being changed and that would take some time considering he’d be doing it on his own. That meant that they’d need to spend at least one night on the side of the road if not two. The fortunate aspect of things was that Ben had spotted a small clearing off on the high slope of the trail while looking for a tree to cut down to make the braces and that clearing would make a reasonable campsite. The first thing he did was to help Mrs. Fuller and her children to it.
Once Ben got them situated there was a need for a fire. He found stones for a fire ring and he scraped off any grass where he put it so there wouldn’t be any chance of the fire spreading past the ring. Then Ben had to go find some wood and kindling. It all took time and effort. Finally he had to get the fire started. Mrs. Fuller couldn’t really do that. She was still tending to her kids who were weeping over the death of their father. She was also gasping from time to time whenever a contraction hit her. Her gasps made Ben a little nervous.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, ma’am,” Ben said to Mrs. Fuller once he had the fire going well enough that one of the children could tend it with supervision from their mother. “I’m going to go back to your wagon and I’m going to dig a few things out and bring them back here so you and your children will be comfortable. It might take me a bit of time but I’ll try and hurry. If you need me just yell and I’ll come running.”
“Thank you Mr. Hart, I’ll do that,” Mrs. Fuller gasped in reply when one of her contractions took hold of her. “You’re very kind.”
Dragging stuff from the wagon did a multitude of things. One important thing was that it took some of the load off the wagon and that took some of the strain off of the team of mules who were still harnessed to it. They weren’t straining at their harness like they had been when Ben had first gotten there but they were still stuck in one place. Ben would deal with them soon enough. Some of the stuff that he’d pulled out of the wagon he simply left sitting on the trail. What he thought he needed he took back to the clearing. That included a rolled up mattress and some bedding.
That was the other thing that taking stuff off the wagon allowed for. It permitted Ben to make a comfortable place for Mrs. Fuller and her kids to sit and wait until he was done dealing with the wagon. It also allowed him to make a safe place for the woman if her labour did come on strong. Ben was sure the woman appreciated the thought even though neither of them mentioned it when Ben threw up a piece of canvas as a lean-to so that the woman had some shelter.
The third thing taking things out of the wagon did was to keep the kids away from it. With pots and pans and other items up by the fire Mrs. Fuller could tend to her children without them wandering about and at the minimum getting under foot. The two children were small and the trail was dangerous. They also didn’t need to see the dead body of their father. Ben was certain of that. In all it took him another hour to set up camp. When Ben was finished making camp he went back and got his horse. He then led it back to the clearing so it could graze.
“You’ll find some food in that grub sack,” Ben told Mrs. Fuller when he brought his own gear over to the fire rig. Over his shoulder he was carrying his saddle and bedroll and in his free hand he was carrying his saddlebags and a large canvas bag. He dropped the canvas bag at the feet of Mrs. Fuller and he dropped his saddle and the rest of his gear to the ground across the fire ring from where he’d settled the woman and her family. When he was done he took of his heavy traveling coat and he threw it over his saddle. When he was done he continued talking to the woman. “I’ll get some water on to heat next and you can give your kids some of my food. That should keep them content for a bit while I go see about pulling that wagon away from the edge of the trail.”
“Thank you Mr. Hart,” Mrs. Fuller started to say as she looked up from the sack of food that the young man had placed at her feet. When the woman’s gaze flicked over the tin badge pinned to Ben Hart’s heavy linen shirt her eyes went wide with surprise and she stammered a second or two before catching herself. In the end Mrs. Fuller exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, Mr. Hart, I didn’t know you were a lawman.”
“You don’t need to apologize to me, ma’am,” Ben replied with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders, “you didn’t know because I didn’t tell you. Now you tend to your children and yourself and I’ll fetch that water. I’ll be back in a minute or two.”
Ben went back to the wagon to fetch the water. He’d seen a stream a mile or so up the trail but there was no way he’d be walking there to fetch it. Since he’d noticed a couple of water barrels on the down slope side of the wagon, he figured getting the water from there would help him out in the long run. It was also a hell of a lot closer. It took a little effort to get the water without falling off the precipice but the job did get done. In the end Ben carried back two large cast iron pots filled with water. He put one to boil over the fire and he put one for use beside where the woman and her children were sitting. The children were gnawing on a biscuit when he got back.
“All right now ma’am,” Ben said to the woman, putting a smile on his lips, “I’m going to go and see about your wagon now. It might take me a bit of time but I won’t be far if you need me. Just send your boy after me if you need something.”
Mrs. Fuller nodded her understanding and Ben went off to do what he could with the wagon. The first task was to help balance out the load. Fortunately the wagon wasn’t piled high with anything too weighty. There wasn’t a plough or anything like that packed in the back of the wagon and what there was that was heavy appeared to have been packed against the up slope side of the wagon. Ben had to move a few things about but not much. The things he did pull from the wagon he placed over onto the up slope side of the trail so it would be out of the way.
By then Ben knew that moving the wagon wasn’t really going to be a problem. The risk of it toppling over the edge of the precipice was certainly less now that he’d inspected everything than he’d first imagined. The biggest problem was moving it without damaging the wagon any further. The busted wheel was down over the side of the precipice with the body of Mr. Fuller so he wasn’t going to be able to use that and there was no way for him to put the spare wagon wheel that the Fuller’s had been carrying on to the wagon considering the fact that the axle was sticking out into open space. It meant dragging the wagon for a bit. Hopefully he wouldn’t do too much damage in the process.
Ben took it slow but steady. He hoped that the rope securing the rear of the wagon to the up slope tree would keep the backend of the wagon from going over the edge when the mules started to pull away from the precipice and the body of the wagon straightened out. He spoke calmly to the lead mule and made certain that it was cooperative. He also checked the harness on all the animals before urging them to pull. He didn’t want a harness snapping under the strain of the work. Again all this took time and effort. Still it had to be done.
It turned out to be easier than he’d thought. The mules were cooperative and they were strong. The rope on the rear did keep the backend on the trail and in less than ten minutes Ben had pulled the wagon far enough towards the up slope side of the trail that he could comfortably work on replacing the busted wheel when the time was right. By then it was well past midday and Ben needed something to eat before he took on any more work. He also knew that replacing the wheel was going to be a bitch of a job and one he’d have to put off till later. He still had to recover the body of Mr. Fuller. With that in mind Ben took the time to unharnessed the mule team and to lead them through the patch of trees on the up slope side of the trail and into the clearing where he’d left Mrs. Fuller and her children. Mrs. Fuller smiled at him when she saw him leading the mules.
“Would you like a cup of coffee Marshal?” Mrs. Fuller called out to him after he’d hobbled the mules so they could graze.
“I wouldn’t mind a cup, ma’am,” Ben replied flashing the woman an appreciative smile.
“Would you like some food as well?” Mrs. Fuller asked as she handed Ben a cup of black coffee.
“I would definitely enjoy that, ma’am,” Ben acknowledged as he settled himself down on his saddle, “if you’re of a mind to serve me.”
“I am Marshal,” Mrs. Fuller replied returning Ben’s smile with one of her own, “and it’ll be a pleasure. My family and I are beholden to you.”
“Well, I’d argue that point ma’am, but for now I just want to rest and enjoy the food you’ve prepared,” Ben declared solemnly as he took the proffered plate of food from the woman. “I still have a bit of work to do today before I can get to work repairing your wagon.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Fuller exclaimed with interest. “What else do you need to get done today Marshal?”
Ben hesitated before giving his reply. Before saying another word he looked about to see if he could spy the two Fuller children. He quickly noted that the two youngsters were curled up under the lean-to that he’d fashioned earlier and they were sleeping on the mattress that he’d hauled over from the wagon. Once he saw that the children were asleep he turned his gaze back to their mother. With a heavy sigh he continued.
“With all due respect ma’am,” Ben told the woman as politely as he could, “I need to recover your husband’s body and I need to dig him a grave so we can bury him. I don’t know where you were bound but I doubt you want to travel with your husband’s body in the wagon. If the place you’re going to isn’t very far then perhaps an undertaker could be sent back for him later and a more fitting resting place than this mountainside could be found. That’ll be up to you later, but for now I plan on burying him here.”
Mrs. Fuller was surprised by Ben Hart’s words. Her face showed that she’d forgotten completely about the fact that her husband’s body was down the side of a mountain. Ben realized that the woman had been distracted by the immediate needs of her children and the pains that she was still feeling. That caused Ben to broach another subject all together.
“Not to pry ma’am,” Ben muttered before the woman could respond to his last piece of news, “but where were you and your family headed. From the looks of your wagon you weren’t traveling far.”
“My husband and I were headed for Whitley,” Mrs. Fuller replied after a second while her mind shifted from the thoughts of her dead husband to what her plans had been. “We’d been living in Granger for the last few years trying to make a go of it but things hadn’t worked out that well for us. Our homestead hadn’t prospered and my husband couldn’t find any work in Granger or at the nearby mines. Things were getting tough around there and we decided to try our luck in Whitley. I’ve got a sister there who’s married and supposedly they’re doing well. At the minimum I’d hoped for her help in delivering my baby. Now I think I won’t get there in time. My pains are fairly regular and they’re increasing in frequency. I’m pretty sure I’ll be having the baby soon.”
“Speaking of that, ma’am,” Ben commented when he saw the worry and apprehension on the woman’s face, “I don’t want you to worry too much about that matter. I realize that we’re parked on the side of a mountain and there aren’t any other women about to give you a hand with the birth, but you’re not alone. I’m here and I do want you to understand that I will help as best I can. I might only be a man but I’m not a stupid man and I can take directions when they’re given. You only have to trust me.”
“Oh my, Marshal Hart,” Mrs. Fuller exclaimed as she came to realize what Ben Hart was saying to her. The suggestion that a man would help her through labour left her shocked and embarrassed. Mrs. Fuller hemmed and hawed for a second or two before she was able to get another word out. When she did speak her cheeks were red with embarrassment. “I don’t know how to reply to that. You’ve taken me completely by surprise.”
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, Mrs. Fuller,” Ben responded apologetically, “and I certainly don’t mean to upset you. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone here. As I told you I’ve got a few sisters back east and I do know a thing or two about women having babies. I’m not a doctor but then again this isn’t your first child. You’ve been through it before and if the baby comes I’m sure you will do fine. I’m just saying that I’m here for you. I can tend to your children and I can hold your hand and I can even boil some water if need be. All you have to do is to give me instructions and I’ll help. Now let’s put this conversation up for now and I’ll finish eating up. Like I said before I still have work to do.”
“Yes Marshal Hart, I think that would be wise for now,” Mrs. Fuller declared still looking extremely embarrassed. “I do however appreciate the fact that you’re here and willing to help. Thank you again.”
Ben just nodded his head and then dug into the plate of food that he’d been given. It didn’t take him long to finish it off. Before leaving to tend to getting Mr. Fuller’s body back up the precipice, Ben paused and had a second cup of coffee. Over it he broached another topic with the woman.
“Not to be to forward ma’am,” Ben stated as he handed over his empty dishes to the woman, “but since we’re going to be acquainted for a little bit, I’d prefer you’d call me Ben. Like I say, my friends call me that and being called Marshal or Mister at this point in our acquaintance seems to be a little too formal for the occasion. Don’t you agree?”
Ben’s words took Mrs. Fuller completely by surprise and her face flushed red once more with embarrassment. The young man just sighed loudly at her reaction.
“Well that’s up to you ma’am,” Ben said dismissively as he stepped away so that he could go finish up the jobs he needed to get done. “I’ve got work to do.”
Mrs. Fuller just watched him walk away feeling even more embarrassed than she had been before.
Ben took one of the mules with him when he went back to the wagon. Once there he untied the ropes that he’d used to anchor the wagon when he’d been afraid of it tipping over the side of the precipice. Once he’d had each rope untied and coiled up Ben set to work to recover the body of Mr. Fuller. The first thing he did was to tie one of the ropes to the down slope side of the wagon. Once that was done, Ben threw the length of rope over the precipice. Then with the other coil of rope draped over his shoulder and across his body Ben slowly rappelled his way down over the side of the precipice to where Mr. Fuller’s body lay. It didn’t take him long to get down there.
Once down Ben took a quick look at the wounds on the body. There was some blood but not much. The man had obviously broken his neck in the fall. While the impact with the rock and ground had torn skin and cut flesh, with no life in his body he hadn’t bled out. In a fashion that was a good thing. He could at least reassure his widow that the man hadn’t suffered. Once Ben had inspected the body, he got to work with the other rope fashioning a harness system so that he could haul the body back up the rock face. It took him a bit of time to get it right. Once he had, Ben tied the free end of the rope to his gun belt so it would trail after him as he climbed back up the precipice. It allowed him to have both hands free to help expedite the effort. It took him a little longer to get up the rock face than it had getting down.
Once to the top of the precipice and back on the trail Ben had to get creative. There was no way that the mule he’d brought with him could haul up the man’s body given the width of the trail. There was no space for it to just drag it up. Ben needed to play with the rope first before he could attach it to the mule’s harness. What he did was to walk the rope across the trail so he could wrap the rope about the base of a tree. Doing that would allow Ben to lead the mule up the trail and for the mule to pull the body up from where it was lying. Amazingly it worked out just the way Ben had thought it out.
Getting the body up had been only half of the job Ben had set for himself. Digging a grave was the other half. To do that Ben borrowed a sharp pointed shovel from the Fuller’s wagon. He was certain that no one would object to him using it. He left Mr. Fuller’s body lying beside the wagon and then he headed back towards the clearing. Unfortunately it was the closest patch of earth near the wagon. He only hoped that there was enough soil on the ground to bury the man in it.
Mrs. Fuller kept her children busy while Ben worked. The two were up and about and now that they’d slept some and they had eaten they were back to being normal kids. It took some doing but the woman kept them in check. One of the tasks she gave them was for them to go looking about the clearing for some more firewood. Ben had already picked the vicinity clean when he’d made the fire earlier but children were children and they didn’t know it. So long as they didn’t head towards the trail or into the woods things were fine.
There was enough soil. Ben didn’t dig the hole as deep as an undertaker would but it would be deep enough that no wild animal would dig him up anytime soon. Maybe the woman would get her brother-in-law to come back for the body. Ben didn’t know and he wasn’t going to broach the question. When the hole was ready he went back for the body.
Ben wrapped the man’s body in a blanket that he found in the wagon. He secured it about the body and then he put the body over the back of the mule. The mule wasn’t happy about it but it accepted the burden once it was settled into place. Once that was done, Ben tidied up the area about the wagon. Anything that looked perishable he put back into the back of the wagon and he closed up the tailgate. He definitely didn’t want animals getting into the wagon and into the Fuller’s possessions. He also recovered his rope and the Fuller’s rope. He coiled the Fuller’s rope up and put it back where he had found it. Then he led the mule and the body to where he’d dug the grave. Ten minutes later he had Mr. Fuller in the ground.
“Would you like to say anything ma’am,” Ben asked once he’d laid out the dead man. Mrs. Fuller and her two children had come over once he’d placed the body in the grave.
Mrs. Fuller did have a word or two to say over her husband. She didn’t get religious about it and go on about the man being with God now but she did try and explain things to her children. The boy seemed to understand a bit but the girl didn’t. Still they all cried once the woman had said her good-byes and they had repeated the Lord’s Prayer. Once that task was done Ben covered the man up. As far as he was concerned his jobs were done for the day. Unfortunately fate decided that there was other work to be done.
Mrs. Fuller’s water broke after supper. It made things a little awkward. The woman was embarrassed and the children a little anxious. Fortunately the baby didn’t come right away. Once the woman had gotten a hold of her embarrassment she explained to Ben that it would still be a while before the baby came. That gave them both time to settle down the two children and for Ben to return to the wagon to fetch a few things that Mrs. Fuller had packed away for the birth and the new baby. While in the wagon Ben grabbed a few other things as well. He had his own ideas of what was going to be needed.
One thing that Ben did was to have Mrs. Fuller walk about the clearing while he tended to her children and to getting things ready. The woman would rather have lain down instead but the man was insistent that it was something that his sisters had done and it would help the pain and to speed the delivery on. To help her get about he let her lean upon his horse. While she did that Ben settled her two children into his bedroll and he got water onto the fire. He also hauled up a barrel of fresh water from the wagon and he set that to one side along with a small pot that he partially filled with water. Beside it he put a towel and a bar of soap.
Events progressed quickly after that point. Ben had just laid down a piece of canvas over the woman’s mattress when Mrs. Fuller started to groan even louder. Ben was able to get the woman comfortable before the real work started. He even got her out of her dress and covered up with a blanket to protect her modesty. He held her hand and encouraged her through her pain. In between he stoked the campfire up with the braces that he’d brought up from the wagon on his last trip to it. He hoped the flames would give him enough light to help out when the time came. He also poured some of the hot water from the fire into the other pot and then he washed his hands. There were other things he wanted to do but he knew that the woman would have taken offense to him doing them. He just let her direct him as best she could when the time finally arrived. It was well past dark when Mrs. Fuller gave birth to another little girl. It brought tears of joy to both the woman’s eyes and Ben’s.
“I have to apologize to you Ben,” Mrs. Fuller stated a while later as she sat with her new born daughter nursing at her breast. By then Ben had washed and cleaned the baby while Mrs. Fuller had finished the birthing process and she had expelled the placenta. He’d also swaddled the baby in a diaper and a warm wrap before handing her back to her mother. He’d even given the woman some clean water to help clean herself up while he’d tided up after her and the baby. The man had done it without comment or flinching. It had shamed her deeply and she wanted to make amends. “I have to be honest with you; you took me by surprise given our situation. I know now that you were simply trying to put me at ease and to reassure me. I’m embarrassed to say it but you took better care of me than some midwives I’ve known. You’re a good man and I’d be proud if you called me by my given name. It’s Ruth by the way.”
“I thank you Ruth for your words and your friendship,” Ben said from where he was sitting across from the woman. “I know I probably had you worried for a time, but I can assure you I don’t have any ill intent towards you and your family. All I want to do is to fix your wagon and to see you safely to your sister’s home. After that I’ll be on my way. For now however I want you to tend to your new daughter and to get to some rest. Tomorrow your two other children will be needing you as well so you’re going to need as much sleep as you can get when you can get it. Let me worry about the rest.”
“I’ll do that Ben,” Ruth murmured softly as she adjusted her new born daughter into a better position for her to hold her and feed her at the same time. For the moment she was feeling the euphoria of having given birth and she was wide awake. She accepted a cup of fresh water from Ben when he offered it to her and she allowed him to hold her new daughter when she needed to go off and tend to her own needs. Eventually however fatigue hit her and she allowed the young man to help her to her mattress and to cover her and the baby up.
Once that was done Ben took care of his own needs. He found a spot off from the Fuller family and he made himself comfortable. Thankfully he had a spare blanket that he could cover himself with. He fell asleep without any problems.
Ben woke to the sound of stirring children. Jacob and Martha Fuller were up and about and standing by the mattress where their mother lay nursing her new child. Hearing them muttering softly to one another got Ben up.
“I’m sorry the children woke you Ben,” Ruth told him when she noticed him getting up from where he’d been sleeping. “The children are just excited to meet their new sister.”