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Suddenly irritated, she lifted the Doctor's heavy arm off her chest. Whatever had the man been thinking to drag his family to this godforsaken wilderness? How dare he put them in this alarming predicament, and then overnight become a stranger to her?
Something moved outside the wagon's thin canvas sides. She strained to hear. Certainly the dreaded Sioux wouldn't make so much noise if they were planning a raid. It must be the horses, she told herself, but her heart beat fast. She buried her icy hands beneath the covers and tried to peer across the children's heads through the opening in the canvas. Nothing but utter darkness. She listened again, and silently began to pray, beseeching God to keep her family safe.
Already Mary had lost track of the days. It seemed as though she and her family had been following this muddy track for decades, but in reality it couldn't have been be more than a few weeks. The days blended into each other as surely as the colors in a fading sunset as the wagon jostled over every stone this everlasting trail put in their way. Her smooth hands were red and coarse from scrubbing dishes in the cloudy river water. Her complexion, she was sure, was tanned and wind-burned, although she hadn't had the courage to fetch her looking glass and find out for certain.
This trip had changed more than just her skin. Even her prayers were different--desperate pleas for courage and strength instead of the joyful thanksgiving she had offered back home. Mary wondered what her mother would think of her stained calico dress, already patched where she had caught it on the rough wagon seat. Had all those years of careful schooling and lessons in gracious living come to this? She ran her fingers over her windblown hair, which she had jabbed into place with hairpins yesterday. It felt dusty, like the rest of her, and matted. She must take time to brush it out. She wished she could find a secluded place to wash more than just her face, too, but the lack of vegetation made the most private of endeavors a public spectacle.
At last the eastern sky glowed faintly, and Mary extracted herself from her cramped place under the dew-dampened quilts. She stepped down the wooden wheel spokes to the ground, her bare toes silent on the splintery oak. She was the first one stirring in the small camp, and she stretched her slender arms above her head and breathed deeply. Then, pulling her shawl closer to fend off the chill, she stood for a moment, watching the pink sunrise hide the sparkling stars.